What do I write in a sympathy card?
As the novel coronavirus is still with us and the Delta variant rages throughout the world, many of us are faced with more occasions where we need to express sympathy than ever before. What you choose to write will depend primarily on your relationship to the recipient and your relationship to the departed.
While it's important to be thoughtful, simply sending a card will let your loved ones know that you care and they have your support. Don't let the fear of saying the wrong thing keep you from doing the right thing. Here we've collected a few ideas to consider and even have written a few examples of condolence notes that will get you started.
What if I don't know what to say?
Don't agonize for too long about what to write. Keep it simple and honest.
It's perfectly acceptable to acknowledge the awkwardness of the moment and that you don't know what to say. In fact, we designed the card that says, "I have no words, but I'm here" for exactly that situation. Even with physical distance, it's meaningful to be "there" for your friends.
The simplest messages often carry the most weight. Here are a few ideas:
"I'm so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if there's anything I can do for you during this time."
"My deepest sympathies for your loss. Love, Mark"
"I was so sad to hear about Jenny's passing. You are in our thoughts and prayers."
What do I write in a sympathy card if I didn't know the person who died?
Expressing sympathy for a loved one's loss gets even trickier when you didn't know the deceased. It's important to acknowledge the pain of loss and may make sense to mention things you have been told about the person or perhaps have read in the obituary.
"While I didn't get to know Edgar, he sounds like a really fun person. I know you'll miss him and I hope you'll find comfort in all the memories you shared."
"I'm so sorry for your loss. While I never had the pleasure of meeting your wife, I have heard so many wonderful things about her in the past few days."
"We wanted to offer our condolences for your loss. Chris shared the obituary with me and Rose sounds like such a fantastic friend to all who met her. I would have loved the opportunity to spend time in that famous garden of hers and get to know her better. I know you'll treasure the time you spent with her."
What do I write in a sympathy card if I can't attend the funeral?
It's been sadly common during the COVID-19 pandemic to not have a public funeral, so you may want to acknowledge the fact that you're unable to attend and be physically present to support your loved ones. Even without a worldwide pandemic upending our lives, sometimes it's just not possible to attend a funeral or memorial service. Acknowledge that you wish you could be there and let them know that you're "there" for them emotionally.
"John, I'm so sorry for your loss. I wish I could be there in person to help you say goodbye. Know that I'm here for you, even from a distance."
"I wish I could be there to comfort you in person during this time of grieving. Please feel free to reach out at any time. I'd love to hear more of your fond memories of Joan."
Should I send a sympathy card for the loss of a pet?
The loss of a pet can be as emotionally trying as the loss of a loved [human] one. People who haven't had a furry friend may not understand the truly deep loss that comes with losing a dog or cat. We think it's right to mourn the loss of a pet, and perfectly appropriate to express sympathy to a loved one who has experienced this type of loss.
"I'm sorry about your friend" is available as a dog sympathy card and a cat sympathy card.
What shouldn't I write in a sympathy card?
In general, I believe that writing anything in a sympathy card is better than not sending one in the first place. Everyone will process grief in a different way, and to some degree what you say just isn't as important as the fact that you cared enough to say something. Even so, there are a couple of things that I think make sense to avoid saying in a sympathy card.
Any variation of "...in this terrible time," "in these difficult times," or "in these unprecedented times." These are all different ways of saying that dealing with loss sucks, that COVID-19 and the whole pandemic sucks. We all already know that, and we're tired of hearing more about it. Try to focus on the positives: focus on deep love and great memories of the departed rather than reinforcing the fact that social distancing sucks, especially at the end of life.
"Things happen for a reason." No one wants to hear this particular platitude. It minimizes the meaning of loss and grief. Your recipient doesn't need to jump to some kind of lesson from their loss. Just let them grieve, and let them know you're there for them while they do so.
Bottom line: write the card, already. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
Many people feel like they don't have the right words for difficult situations. That's completely natural and nothing to feel bad about. Don't let the awkwardness of not knowing what to say prevent you from expressing sympathy. It's natural to feel awkward and not know exactly what to say in a sympathy card. Hopefully, these ideas gave you a starting point. Let us know in the comments if there are any other tips you'd offer to the Lost Art Stationery community.
See all of our sympathy cards.
While you're at it, consider sending that apology card you've been putting off; there's never been a better time to say "I'm sorry." Also, be sure to join our subscription service for monthly greeting cards with stamps so you'll never be without the perfect card for any occasion.
This is genius. I’ve read and printed it. Thank you for the primer. It’s incredibly helpful (in these unprecedented times).
That last bit was a joke.