Last year I wrote an article entitled How to Write a Sympathy Card. I received feedback that it was helpful, so I decided to put together this bigger version for you, full of lots more helpful tips and advice. Why not bookmark it, so you can refer back to it when required? Read through our guide and learn how best to convey your condolences to friends, family and acquaintances when they lose a loved one. You can express your sympathy via many methods, but nothing is held as close as a handwritten sympathy card during and after periods of grief.
Who do I address the card to?
First things first, who should you address the card to? This is a common question in this situation, so here is a simple guide. If you knew the deceased well, address your note to the closest living relative – usually the wife/husband, or eldest child. If you didn’t know the deceased but your friend or relative was a close friend or close relative of the deceased, write to them. If a friend’s parent has passed away, write to your friend. You can always add an “and family” onto the end of your greeting, if you wish.
How do I address the envelope?
Address the envelope formally, with titles and full names, using the classic rules.
Short sympathy messages
The below are some short, generic messages that convey your sympathy. If you’d like to keep your message concise, these phrases are ideal, or they can be combined, or added in with more personalised messages, quotes, or biblical references to write a longer piece. Whilst a short message is fine, remember that just “Dear Brian, with love from Lucy” is not enough, and comes across as nonchalant.
- I’m thinking of you
- I’m thinking of you during this difficult time
- You’re in my thoughts
- I am so sorry for your loss
- You are in my prayers
- My deepest sympathy
- My sincere sympathy
- Please accept my condolences
- With warmest condolences
- With heartfelt condolences
- My heart goes out to you at this difficult time
- My heart goes out to you at this time of sorrow
- I am deeply sorry to hear about the death of [insert name]
- I am deeply sorry to hear about the passing of [insert name]
- Wishing you peace to bring comfort, courage to face the days ahead, and loving memories to forever hold dear in your hearts
- With love
- With love and hugs
- With love at this sad time
- Sending you and the family love
- With thoughts of peace and courage for you
- I will miss [insert name] very much
- May you be comforted by the outpouring of love surrounding you
- May your heart and soul find peace and comfort
- I was very saddened to hear that [insert name] passed away
- I am missing [insert name] along with you
- I am sharing in your sadness as you remember [insert name]
- Thinking of you as you celebrate [insert name]’s life
- Thinking of you and hoping you are doing OK
- God bless
- Wishing you peace
- Wishing you healing
- With you in sorrow
- I am sharing your sadness
- Sending caring thoughts your way
- [Insert name] will live in my memories forever
- [Insert name] will be sadly missed
- Words cannot even begin to express my sorrow
- Please remember that you are not alone, and I am always here for you
- May your happy memories give you peace and comfort during this challenging time
- My heart is aching for your loss
Sympathy for the loss of a mother
- When I think of your mother, I think of a strong, confident woman who would have done anything to protect her children and ensure their happiness.
- Living without the one person who has loved you unconditionally all your life – even before you were born – must be so difficult. I am sending my most sincere condolences on the loss of your beloved mother.
- Words cannot begin to express the pain you must be feeling at the loss of your mother, the irreplaceable woman who brought you into the world and loved you unconditionally throughout your life.
- I was so sorry to learn of your mother’s passing. She was a wonderful woman, who will be truly missed by many.
- Mums remain in our hearts forever, even after they pass away. I am so sorry for your loss.
- It takes a special person to be a Mum, but it takes an extra special Mum to bring up a wonderful child. Your Mum was clearly one of the best. I am so sorry for your loss.
- Mothers carry their children in their hearts, and children carry mothers in their hearts too. Keep your Mum there, and carry her memory with you always. She was a wonderful woman, and I am so sorry for your loss.
- Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of your mother. From all I heard about her, she was a wonderful woman to be admired. What wonderful memories you must have of her.
Sympathy for the loss of a father
- Your father was one of the nicest people I knew, and I know that he was a great dad too. I am so sorry for your loss.
- My condolences to you for the passing of your father. He was a wonderful man, and there will never be another man like him.
- Your father was always talking about you and bragging about how wonderful you were. I hope you know that you meant the world to him. He was a great man and will be sorely missed.
- I am so sorry for your loss. Your father was a great man, and I know how close you were to him. He will be missed by many.
- I am sorry to hear of your father’s passing. I will remember him as a kind, funny man who would do anything to help anyone. You are in my thoughts at this difficult time.
Sympathy for the loss of a child
Nobody ever expects their child to pass away before them, but sadly it does happen. Knowing what to say in this situation can seem impossible. Here are a few ideas for you:
- The shadow cast by his parents certainly allowed him to shine brightly in his world. Good for you both to have raised [insert name] to be his own man and yet so remarkably like his parents.
- If a woman is to be judged by her friends and family, [insert name] is to be judged at the highest level.
- I feel as though I was blessed to have been graced by [insert name]’s big heart and kind personality. It is truly the mark of wonderful parents. Every bit of my heart goes out to you during this most difficult time.
- I am truly sorry for your loss. The loss of a child is absolutely heartbreaking. My heart aches for you and your family. [Insert name] was a wonderful child and she will be terribly missed by so many.
- Words can not express the sorrow and pain I feel for the loss of your son/daughter. [Insert name] will be greatly missed. With my deepest sympathy.
Sympathy for the loss of a pet
The passing away of a pet can often by overlooked by others, when it is often a harrowing time for the owners. Be prepared next time a beloved pet dies, with a message along these lines:
- May fond memories of [insert name] bring you peace and comfort at this difficult time.
- To lose a friend is never easy. Please know that you are in my thoughts at this difficult time.
- It is so hard to say goodbye to such a special companion. My thoughts are with you.
- Some pets are friends. Others are family. The loss of [insert name] can’t be easy – he was a wonderful and loyal dog. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
- Pets never really leave us – they live on in our hearts and our fond memories.
- You are in my thoughts following the sad passing of [insert name]. Please know that she touched many lives with her lovely nature and unusual meow. She will be missed.
Sometimes you might want to let someone else do the talking for you, or to enhance what you have already written by adding a suitable quote. Here are some useful examples:
- “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” – Thomas Campbell
- “Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in time of sorrow” – Robert Louis Stevenson
- “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years” – Abraham Lincoln
- “I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love” – Leo Buscaglia
- “How very softly you tiptoed into our world, almost silently, only a moment you stayed. But what an imprint your footsteps have left upon our hearts” – Dorothy Ferguson
If you or the card recipient are Christian, then perhaps a biblical verse could provide some comfort. The same, of course, goes for other religions. Here are some suitable examples from the bible:
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4
- “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
- “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
Some general tips for writing a sympathy card
When personalising the card to your situation, remember to:
- Select an appropriate card. It doesn’t have to be a sympathy card specifically – it could be a blank card with a nice picture on the front.
- Take your time – don’t write your sympathy card in a rush
- Keep it short if you’re struggling with what to write – it’s better to send a card with a short message inside than a card containing a long, ill-informed or offensive message.
- Compliment the deceased
- Share a favourite memory of the deceased
- Say something uplifting – don’t dwell on the negatives
- Offer practical help. Don’t just write, “If you need anything, you know where I am”, as that is too vague and won’t be taken up. Instead, offer a hand with specific practical tasks such as childcare, cooking or ironing. Don’t make promises you can’t keep though; if you can’t babysit for them every weekend for the next 6 months, don’t say you can.
What NOT to write in a sympathy card
The reason most of us struggle to write sympathy cards is, we are terrified of writing something that could further upset, offend or anger the recipient. You also need to avoid belittling any feelings they are having. With all of this in mind, keep these phrases and topics out of your writing:
- “You will…”
- “You should…”
- “I know exactly how you feel”
- “He was too young…”
- “It’s for the best”
- “They’re in a better place now”
- “You can always remarry” or “You’ll meet someone else”
- “At least they lived a long life”
- “Everything happens for a reason”
- “It could be worse…”
- “At least you have other children”
- “It will get easier in time”
- “It’s time for you to move on”
- Any details about the manner of the deceased’s death
In summary, don’t allocate blame, don’t discuss the circumstances of the death, don’t offer advice, and don’t tell them they will feel better in X amount of time. Put yourself in their shoes, and think about the words which would bring you comfort at such a time, and which words wouldn’t.
Sympathy card message examples
Here are a couple of examples, to give you a feel for the kind of thing you can write in your own cards:
Loss of a father
I am so sorry for your loss. Steven was a wonderful man, with a heart of gold, and I will miss him dearly. His laugh was infectious, and I’ll never forget our camping trips in France. He often spoke of your achievements during our games of golf – a true sign of a proud parent. You meant the world to him, and I know the feeling was very much mutual. Please know that you are in my thoughts at this difficult time, and I would be more than happy to look after Milo and Maude for you if you would like some time out. They are welcome to stay over at my house anytime.
Sending you and the family all my love.
Loss of a friend
I am deeply sorry to hear about the passing of Jennie. To me she always seemed to be a whirlwind of fun and laughter, and I couldn’t help but feel uplifted in her presence. I know what a support she was to you over the years too, especially during sixth form, when you were inseparable and sneaking out late to go to parties.
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years” – Abraham Lincoln
If you’d like some help with washing and ironing during this difficult time, please let me know. I can collect and drop it off again, so you can concentrate on looking after yourself.
Thinking of you,
Love from Louise”
Loss of a son to suicide
” My dear friend Fran,
I was shocked and saddened to hear about Jamie’s death. I cannot imagine the heartache you must feel. Words seem so inadequate to express my sadness. He was a wonderful young man, so kind and thoughtful, and I know he will be deeply missed by many. If I can help with meals, just let me know – I can cook you and the family some meals and drop them off, or I can come round to your house and cook. Whichever you would prefer.
Remembering with you, the life of your precious son.
Lots of love,
Follow up on your sympathy card
Whilst it is lovely of you to send a sympathy card to someone who has recently been bereaved, it is also nice to follow up your card with further contact – whether that be in person, by telephone, email, or a letter. It is also a nice idea to get in touch on the anniversary of their loved one’s death, to let them know you are thinking of them. Offer support and any practical help they might still need, and also let them know that it is perfectly OK for them to still be feeling sad.
Featured image credit, for original image: Pat1984