When someone we care about is grieving, it can be difficult to know just what to say. In the face of loss, oftentimes it seems as if words can never be enough. But the truth is, your words matter. They can be powerful reminders to the person who is mourning that they are loved and not alone.
So, how do you write a meaningful sympathy note? We’ve put together a few tips to help guide you.
Personalize Your Condolences
It might feel safe to stick with broad statements in an effort to avoid saying the wrong thing. But personalized cards have a beautiful way of letting someone feel held, and safe to embrace all their emotions. There are many ways to add that personal touch. If you knew the person who passed away, share a memory, or talk about how they impacted your life or their community. If you did not know the deceased, you may still be able to talk about how that person impacted the griever with sentiments such as “While I never had the pleasure of meeting your dad, I’ve seen the way your eyes light up at the mention of him and know he was truly someone special.”
Honor What’s True for the Recipient
Every person’s grief journey is unique, and while hearing about loss might reconnect us to similar losses in our own life, it’s important to keep the focus of your message on the recipient’s experience. Sentiments such as “I know what you are going through,” may unintentionally diminish the griever’s feelings. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge their experience with sentiments like “I know your world feels completely changed right now” or “I know what a light she was to you.” One of the most moving gifts we can give each other is the gift of being seen.
Consider the Timing
There are many opportunities throughout the grieving process to connect. Sending a card when you first hear the news has its benefits. But your words of comfort can also mean a lot after communal mourning is complete—when the memorial is over, and the meal trains have ended but the person who has lost a loved one is still grieving. There are lots of “firsts” after a life is over—the first birthday, the first holiday season without them, the first anniversary of their passing. Share a simple note to offer words like “I know this is your first Thanksgiving without your wife, and I want you to know I am holding you in my heart” or “As the Christmas season approaches, I find myself thinking about how much your sister enjoyed the holidays and I am sending you so much love as you grieve.” Offering your condolences as these “firsts” approach reminds the person who is mourning that their grief still matters and their loved one still matters too.
Words to Get You Started
There are no “perfect” words, and it doesn’t take many to make a big difference. A few starting words might assist you and ease any initial anxious feelings about finding the right things to say. Here are some example phrases to stir your own ideas and help you begin writing:
- What an amazing person (name of loved one) was. I’m remembering (them) and thinking of you.
- In the hard moments, I hope the memories you hold close bring you comfort.
- I can’t begin to understand all you’re feeling right now. I wish you didn’t have to go through a loss like this. Know you are not alone. I am here for you.
- Your father had the most contagious laughter. I’m glad to have shared so many joyful moments with him.
- I wish I had just the right words to share as you grieve the passing of your aunt. But I want you to know I love you and I am here to help carry the sadness with you in any way I can.
- My heart goes out to you as you mourn the loss of your cat, [name]. They were truly fortunate to have known your love.
- I wanted to share my sincere condolences on the passing of your wife. The legacy she left in our community is more than I could ever hope to capture here. Thank you for sharing her spirit with us.