After a person loses a loved one, the grief can be overwhelming. That is why it is important to show that you are there for the survivors, even if you were not able to attend the funeral. You can do this by offering words of condolence, sending a sympathy note, and offering assistance when needed.
Although it is good to do something as soon as possible after the death, it is never too late. In fact, it may provide an extra layer of comfort after other people's sympathy messages have stopped.
Questions and Answers
Question: Are belated notes of sympathy appropriate? Should you send a note after quite a bit of time has passed?
Answer: Yes, writing a personal note is a nice way to show your sympathy. The family will appreciate the effort you took to express your thoughts and feelings about their loved one. If you were unable to attend the funeral, this enables you to extend your heartfelt sympathy and regrets that you were unable to attend. Ideally, the note will be on paper or a card, but if you may also send an email.
Of course it is always better to send a sympathy note immediately after the person passes away. However, there are circumstances when you might not be able to. For example, you may not have known about it or you might not have been in the area when it happened. As soon as possible - even years afterward - let the deceased person's family know you are thinking of them and send your condolences.
An issue you might be facing is that you didn't find out about the death until later. One thing you don't need to do is make the person feel bad about not informing you of his loved one's death. Even if you were a close friend, there are so many things that the survivors have to do in an emotional state that some things are likely to slip through the cracks.
What to Include
Writing a belated sympathy note is not that much different from writing one immediately after the person's passing. The only difference is that you might want to acknowledge that time has passed. You may or may not offer an apology, depending on the circumstances of why the note is belated.
Even if you apologize, don't dwell on the fact that your note is late. A simple, "I didn't know," or "I was unable to attend the funeral," will suffice.
It is always nice to include a fond memory of the deceased. Please keep it short, though, and save the long stories for reminiscing later, when you get together with the person you are sending the message to.
Wrap up the note by extending an invitation to call or get together. If you are coming in from out of town, you may mention that and ask when would be a good time to get together while you are there.
Here are some examples of belated sympathy notes:
I only recently heard of your mother's passing last year, and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am for your loss. I have quite a few fond memories of her and how she used to make cupcakes for all the neighborhood children. Give me a call when you have time. Maybe we can get together for coffee soon.
Thoughts and prayers for you and your family,
I am so sorry to learn of your wife's passing. Although I was out of town and unable to attend the funeral, I want you to know that my thoughts were with you during this difficult time in your life. I remember seeing the loving way you and Samantha looked at each other, even after being married for so long. Please know that I will pray for peace for you and the rest of the family.