Knowing what to write in a sympathy card after the loss of someone’s loved one can be hard to navigate.
For some of us, finding the right words to say when someone dies is a struggle, despite the compassion and sympathy you feel.
Everyone grieves differently, but knowing you have the support and thoughts of others after you have suffered a loss can be a huge comfort during a difficult time. A sympathy card can usually convey this in a heartfelt way.
With all matters related to grief, sensitivity is needed. Here, professionals and charities that work with bereaved adults and children advise on what to write in a sympathy card and share some ideas to help you when penning personal sentiments at this difficult time.
What to write in a sympathy card
When writing your sympathy card, there is a general consensus that the most important thing you can do is acknowledge what has happened.
“The main advice we give people is just to be honest. Acknowledge the news and say how sorry you are that their friend or relative has died,” says Amy Green, a Project Manager at Cruse Bereavement Care. The charity provides confidential support, information and guidance to individuals, families and professionals throughout the UK.
“Don’t worry too much about saying the right thing. It is more important that you are reaching out rather than finding the perfect words,” she adds.
Linda Magistris, CEO of The Good Grief Trust notes that the content of your card should be based on how close you were to the individual:
“What you write in a condolences card will depend on your relationship with the one who has died and the bereaved person you are sending to,” she says. “Generally keep it short. You can always follow up with a longer letter.”
If you had a close relationship with the person and their family, it’s nice to share your best memories of them, advises Jennifer Park, a registered counsellor at the British Association for Counselling and Pyschotherapy (BACP).
“Make it personal, let that person know you really cared about the deceased and you care about them, perhaps remind them of a memory or time shared that signifies the relationship. Don’t try to be encouraging, try to be real, to be beside them in the loss.
“Tell them you would like to see them very soon and make sure you follow through with it,” she says. “There is an unspoken loneliness around grief that makes people assume you want to be left alone and sometimes you just need attention and care.”
Clare Bullen, Head of Clinical Services at Child Bereavement UK agrees that promising to see and help out a family who have suffered a terrible loss during this time is a kind gesture in any sympathy card.
“It is helpful to make this as specific as possible, for instance offering to organise some shopping or other practical help. Sometimes a bereaved person isn’t ready to accept help, but it can be supportive to offer it and perhaps add your phone number to your letter or card so they can call when the time is right,” she says.
“Consider maintaining contact after the event and continuing to be supportive at other times of year when the person may be struggling; families we support at Child Bereavement UK tell us this can be particularly helpful after the initial flurry of support has gone.”
Clare also reveals something you should refrain from writing in a condolence card. Even if it’s meant with the best of intentions.
“Avoid saying that you know how they feel or referring to your own bereavements,” she adds. “Don’t suggest that they will get over it, or use phrases like ‘time is a great healer’ either.”
The stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands specialises in supporting anyone affected by the loss of a baby. When addressing your condolence card to bereaved parents, it is incredibly important to acknowledge their child as a person.
“If the parents have named their baby, and they would like people to use their baby’s name, it is important that you do this,” says Jen Coates, director of volunteering and bereavement support. “Using their baby’s name is an important acknowledgement for many parents. Do say how sorry you are to hear that their baby has died.”
When writing your card be sure you are including both parents, adds Jen. “Many people focus on supporting the birth mother but please remember to mention fathers and partners in your message too.” The charity sells cards, including sympathy cards, online. The profits go towards supporting the charity’s vital work.
Thinking of you messages and kind sentiments for sympathy cards
When thinking about what to write in a sympathy card, sensitivity is key. Words can carry a great deal of meaning, so taking the time to think about the message you want to convey is recommended.
We asked the same charities and professionals to offer examples of what they’d write in a sympathy card. These are designed to be tweaked or used for inspiration when constructing your own message…
“I don’t know what to say, but just know that I am here for you and will be here for you as long as you need me.”
“I’m so sad to hear this and I’m here if you need to talk.”
“(Name) was such a wonderful person/so selfless – full of positivity/kindness – they will be hugely missed.”
“I cannot imagine the hole that (name/she/he) will have left. If you need anything, let me know.”
“We loved (name) too and will miss him/her greatly.”
“There are no words that can fix it, but I am so sorry.”
“We are sharing in your sadness at the passing of (name).”
“This is so heartbreaking – I wish I could be there to give you a hug.”
“So very sorry to hear about (your baby/name). I’d love to hear about (your baby/he/she/name) sometime if you’d like to talk about him/her.”
“Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help with cooking a meal/doing some shopping/walking the dog/looking after (name of other children).”
“Thinking of you on (your baby’s/name) due date/birthday.”
“Thinking of you especially on Mother’s Day/Father’s Day this year.”
“Take it one step at a time, there is no timeline for grief.”
“Grief is exhausting, look after yourself.”