Writing a Condolence Message

When writing a condolence message to a friend or loved one there are several things to consider. In fact, it is important to consider the type of loss, the circumstances surrounding the passing and the relationship between you and the one grieving.

By expressing condolences in writing there is a heartfelt sympathy shown to the bereaved. While the words cannot take away the pain associated with the loss, the condolence message will show the grieving person that they are cared for and supported.

While we are hesitant to write because we don’t want to say the wrong thing, silence from friends can hurt even worse. Capturing the sadness of the loss and the importance of the relationship into words, even though it is awkward, gives the bereaved lasting proof of concern, compassion and friendship.

Should It Be a Personal Message or Is a Sympathy Card Enough?

Whether the condolence message should be a printed card or a personal expression is dependent primarily upon the relationship with the bereaved. When writing a condolence message it is important to consider the expectations of the recipient based on the nature of the relationship.

Does the relationship shared with the person grieving require more than a sympathy card? Would the card be meaningful if a handwritten message were added to the bottom of the card? Would a personally crafted message express both the depth and sincerity of the condolence and emphasize the value of the relationship? Thoughtful answers to these questions will help guide to the right choice of message for the grieving individual.

How Long Should the Sympathy Message Be?

If the message is a handwritten note included with a printed sympathy card, two or three sentences of a personal nature will be very meaningful. If it is an entirely personal sentiment of condolence, no more than a page would be a good length.

Select a nice piece of stationery or note card to use in writing. It does not necessarily have to be fancy, but should be a notch above copy paper or a lined page from a writing pad. Handwriting the letter adds a personal touch. Typing the message assures legibility. If typing, choose a special font that conveys both elegance and personal flair.

How Should a Condolence Message Begin?

Many people think that a message of condolence is one of the most difficult, uncomfortable things to write. Begin by accepting the fact that writing can be challenging, but the value of the relationship greater outweighs the struggle. The words will not bring back the deceased or eliminate the pain, but will simply reinforce your presence and support.

Start the message with a personal greeting, including the person’s name. The letter has structure and formality. The occasion for writing is somber. Speaking in a way that personalizes the message from the outset breaks down many of the barriers.

What Should the Message Say?

Every condolence message is going to be as unique as the circumstances surrounding the death of the loved one and the depth of the relationship that you share with the bereaved. Here are a handful of ideas to consider when writing.

  • Mention that you are sorry for the loss. The role that the deceased played in the life of the bereaved is now vacant. That void will naturally bring sadness, pain and uncertainties. While you cannot know the exact feelings of the bereaved, your sorrow for the change and intense emotions can be genuine. Even a simple statement, “I wanted to begin by letting you know how sorry I am for the loss of [name of deceased],” will express deep feelings.
  • Describe a memory about the deceased that brings joy to your mind. If you knew the loved one, share a personal experience. “I will never forget when [name of deceased] ….” If you did not personally know the one who passed away, you may be able to recall a story that your friend shared with you at some time.
  • Conclude the message with a wish for peace. The events that surround the funeral of a loved one are hectic at best, traumatic for most, debilitating at worst. Your desire is that the turmoil be over. “My thoughts are with you for a sense of calm and peace.”

When Should the Condolence Message Be Sent?

Some messages of condolence are sent as soon as possible upon receiving the news of the death. The immediacy of the event puts some of the most intense feelings upon the bereaved. Your message of condolence will be needed and most appreciated.

Follow up messages – often less lengthy and less formal – are appropriate after the funeral is over. The moments when the rest of life is demanding a return to routine can make a difficult adjustment. Your sincere expressions of care and concern will be strengthening and encouraging for your friend.

How Can the Condolence Message Be Delivered?

The delivery of a message of condolence may require a sense of urgency with a personal touch. While the mail service can provide a quick delivery to the door, there are times when the post office will take too much time to present the message. If you are planning on seeing the friend before the funeral, hand-deliver the message so it can be read later.

Etiquette is slowly changing regarding the delivery of condolence messages through electronic means. While a text message through a cell phone meets the requirements of urgency, it may not be appropriate for the occasion and can sometimes be received as casual.

Depending on the nature of the relationship and whether you text with the grieving person on a regular basis, a quick message indicating that you heard the news and are sorry for the loss is appropriate. Such a message should be followed up with a lengthier message delivered either by hand or by mail.

Messages of condolence on social media outlets require a little more care. If the bereaved has already posted a message through social media, a response to the post would be welcomed. Posting the announcement of the death on your own might be misinterpreted. If at all possible, connect with the bereaved in a more personal way than just social media. Follow the posting with a phone call, written message or visit.