How to Write a Condolence Letter
A condolence letter is a special blend of communication – some that are almost opposites. The letter is written for the one who is grieving, but it is about the deceased. It has structure and formality, yet it is powerfully emotional. A well-crafted condolence letter balances sorrow with encouragement, pain with peace, and despair with hope.
Five Items to Include in a Condolence Letter
- In your letter, let the bereaved know how you found out about the loss. “I was speaking with George today and he let me know of the loss of your father.” The personal words provide a context and the bereaved will appreciate that someone cared enough to share the loss with you.
- Next, include some thoughts about how hearing about the loss made you feel. Express your sympathy. This can be done in a variety of words or phrases, but should be injected very early in the letter. It can be a natural flow from the opening words. “Karen, I would like to truly express my sympathy to you for the loss of your grandfather, Bert McKenzie. Though I only met your grandfather a couple of times, I immediately could tell how loving, caring and funny he was – and why he played such an important role in your life.”
- Reflect about the character and personality traits of the deceased. The traits can be known first hand, or offered as a reflection of what others have said. “Every time I think of your aunt, I remember her kindness. Do you remember the time that she went out of the way to make all of us feel at home?” The grieving loved one will appreciate that you noticed the very things that were meaningful and are causing the incredible sense of loss.
- Share a story or a special memory about the loved one. It is appropriate for you to mention the strengths and characteristics that you see in your loved one that will be a help during these difficult times of grief. “Karen, I can only imagine the depth of the loss that you are feeling for Grandpa Bert. I have always admired the strength and grace with which you face difficult times in life. I am sure that those qualities, along with the support of your friends and your faith will see you through these tumultuous times.”
- Close with an offer of support. Expressing a willingness to help if needed is a strong statement of care and compassion. “If there is anything I can do, please call” is very generic and actually places the burden on the bereaved. Instead make a definite, specific offer of help. “I would be glad to baby-sit your children each Tuesday for a while so that you can get some things done and have some alone time. Would you like to start this coming Tuesday?”
Tips for Writing a Condolence Letter
There are many common questions and concerns raised when writing a condolence letter. Some feel that their writing skills are limited and composing a letter would be a difficult task. Others may feel that writing a letter that conveys such deep emotion would be awkward or embarrassing. It may even seem that a letter is so impersonal and that it would be better to wait to express feelings in person. In fact, it is important to remember that your words mean a lot and can provide a great deal of comfort.
- When writing a condolence letter, think of it as paying a visit to the grieving person on paper. Write as though you were actually talking to the friend, speaking in words and phrases that you would commonly use. The most effective letters of condolence “sound” like you speaking. The person reading the letter should feel as if you are sitting on the other side of the room.
- If you shared a close relationship with the deceased, discuss what that meant personally to you. Your thoughts should not center just on your loss, but upon the good this person brought to so many – including you.
- A condolence letter should stay focused on the lost loved one. Adding a note about an upcoming birthday or other event may be misinterpreted to lessen the importance of the death. Keep this letter centered upon the loss.
- Close the letter with a word or phrase of sympathy. Closing with the word “sincerely” is far too impersonal. “You are in my thoughts (and/or prayers)” conveys depth, passion and expresses your willingness to act.
Why Write a Condolence Letter: Expressing Written Sympathies is Timeless and Classy
There are not as many letters written today as in times past. While cell phones provide instant connection and social media is effective for announcing activities, sharing one’s deepest thoughts and sincere sympathies take words that can be carved with time and love.
Hand-written letters certainly add to the personal nature of the letter. Select meaningful stationery, writing or note paper, or a blank card to use. Find a good pen – one that will not blot or skip. Make use of favorite quotes, religious writings such as the Bible, poems, or devotionals to use to support your thoughts. Probably the most important thing for you to secure is some quiet, uninterrupted time when you can focus your thoughts on writing the letter.
All of the words do not have to be original to you, though the more they are, the more personal the expression of sympathy will be to the one who is grieving. Combine words and phrases that you have seen that were meaningful to you. Share thoughts that others expressed to you in times of grief. Know that your message of sympathy will be deeply appreciated.
There are a few supplies that you will need to write a sympathy letter. Selection of a warm, inviting font and type size is important. Italic or calligraphy fonts often convey both personality and intimacy. Special paper mimicking parchment or papyrus, or paper with warm colors and borders can be meaningful.
Taking the time to craft a letter of condolence breaks the silence and leaves the bereaved with a tangible expression of comfort that can be visited time and again.