Sympathy Messages

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Though pre-printed sympathy cards are acceptable, writing personal sympathy messages is something to consider. The Emily Post® Institute advises you to follow one rule: Say what you truly feel.


  • Let the family know how much you will miss the deceased
  • Let them know how dear he or she was or how they inspired you
  • Recall a fond memory, share a lighthearted story (but keep it short)
  • Express your regrets in the card or letter if you can't attend the services
  • Always ask if there is something specific you can do to help - run errands, make food, etc.


  • Dwell on the details of an illness or death or ask for details about it
  • Imply that death was for the best
  • Tell the family what to do - "you have to be strong," "stay busy," etc.
  • Make religious references unless you know those sentiments are felt by the family

Following are two examples of short but appropriate sympathy cards:


Dear Elizabeth,

We were so sorry to hear about Henry. If Mark or I can help by walking the dogs, running errands or in any other way, please don't hesitate to call us. We would be honored to be of assistance. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.

With deepest sympathy,


Dear Mr. Smith,

I want you to know that we are thinking of you and your family at this difficult time. If we can help by making a meal or watering the garden, please call. We would love to be of assistance.

Your mother was such an inspiration to me. She always had a smile and was ready to share a kind word. My son adored her coffee cake. She was a special woman and we will miss the presence of Carol Smith very much.

With deepest sympathy,
Betty Jackson

Whom to Address a Sympathy Card

Here are some guidelines when sending a sympathy card or condolence:

  • Address the card to the closest relative of the deceased. If you didn't know the family, address the card to the spouse, the oldest adult child, or parents
  • If you're sending the card to a friend who has lost a relative, send the card directly to your friend
  • If the deceased is the parent of a friend, your note should be sent to the friend, rather than the surviving parent.
  • If you're sending a condolence letter to children who've lost a parent, address their names on separate lines: Miss Ann Wolfe (the daughter), Mr. John Wolfe (the son) underneath. Your card's salutation should say "Dear Ann and John"
  • If a friend's ex-spouse dies, and the couple maintained a close relationship, you can write a sympathy card to your friend and to any children the couple had

Timing for Sending Condolences

A sympathy card or letter of condolence should be sent within a week after learning of the death. But it's a wonderful idea to write again weeks - or even months - later to let the grieving family member know you are still thinking of them.

Trying to put your thoughts into words is difficult, and it's understandable if you have put off writing the card. Keep in mind, your sympathy card doesn't have to be very long. Just let the family know you've been thinking and praying (if appropriate) for them.
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