What to Write in a Sympathy Card

someone writing a sympathy card

The Spruce

Do you ever wonder what to say after someone passes away? Whether it's the mother of a close friend, the spouse of a coworker, a friend's sister, or someone's father, the right words are often hard to find. Don't let fear keep you from sending a comforting message. It's important to take the time to write something to show you care. 

If you've ever felt at a loss for words following someone's passing, you're not alone. You know that the family and close friends of the deceased are hurting, and no matter what you say, that pain won't go away. However, also know that expressing our condolences is the right thing to do, and it needs to have comforting words that show your heartfelt sympathy.

Illustration depicting the do's and don'ts of writing sympathy cards

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Prepare to Write the Sympathy Note

It’s always a good idea to write down a few thoughts on a separate sheet of paper before you begin. If you are sending flowers, you may want to jot an additional brief note to include with the delivery, but a separate message should still be mailed.

Remember that your words need to sound natural and heartfelt, so feel free to use the examples of one of the templates below but edit them to make them your own. Make sure your comments are personal. Your message doesn’t have to be long. Even a brief note will be enough to let the grieving know you are thinking about them.

Sympathy cards should be written by hand or printed on a sympathy card, blank card, or good stationery. It’s best not to send condolences in email or text messages. Try to send the note as soon as possible after the death, but there is no time limit. If you don’t hear about the person or pet’s passing until a year later, you should still send a note to show that you care.

Here are suggestions of thoughts, words, or phrases you may want to include in your sympathy note:

  • Mention that you are praying for the individual or family.
  • Acknowledge that you are thinking about the family during this difficult time.
  • Share a brief, positive, personal story or memory about the deceased.
  • Express how the deceased has impacted your life or the life of others.
  • Extend an offer of help, a shoulder to cry on, or getting together just to talk.
  • Close the note by expressing how the deceased will be missed.
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Examples of Letters if You Knew the Deceased

Sample 1

Dear Mary,


I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. I’ll never forget her warm smile and gracious welcome when our families got together. I know that nothing anyone can say will take away the pain of your loss, but if you feel like talking, please give me a call.


Deepest sympathy,
Alice

Sample 2

Dear Patty,


I just heard about your husband’s passing, and I want to let you know that I am deeply sorry for your loss. Jim was a good father who set an excellent example for other men in the community. I’ll never forget his willingness to serve as Little League coach. The kids will always remember him as Coach Jim, a man who cared deeply about each of them, understood sportsmanship, and laughed easily.


If you need someone to help with errands, I’ll be happy to lend a hand. I would also like to extend an invitation to your children to join mine at the skating rink early next month. I’ll call you next week with the details.


In the meantime, know that I’ll be praying for you and your family. If you need to talk, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call me.


Warmest regards,
Betsy

Sample 3

Dear George,


Thank you for sending us the email, letting us know about your sister Janet’s passing. Margaret and I were sad to read the news. The few times I was around Janet, I could tell that she adored you and her other brothers. I know there is nothing I can say to ease the pain, but please know that my family is praying for yours.


With sympathy,
John

Sample 4

Dear Paulette,


Words cannot express the depth of my sorrow over the terrible tragedy of the accident and loss of your son. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your husband, and your daughter. If there is anything I can do or if you need someone simply to listen, please don’t hesitate to call.


Love and sympathy,
Maggie

Example of a Letter if You Didn’t Know the Deceased

Sample Letter

Dear Tomas,


I am terribly sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. I know how much you loved her, and I’m sure she appreciated all the time you were able to spend with her in her final days. Please know that my thoughts are with you during this difficult time.


Sincerely and with sympathy,
Mavis

Example of a Letter of Sympathy for the ​Loss of a Pet

Sample Letter

Dear Donna,


I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Fifi was such a cute and sweet little dog. Although she was tiny, everyone who knew her and saw the two of you together had no doubt she held a big place in your heart. I’ll never forget the way she used to look up at you with adoring eyes. She will definitely be missed.


With sympathy, lots of love, and hugs,
Mindy

Consider a Gift

If you'd like, you can attach a gift to your sympathy message. Or you can send the gift separately from your message. Besides the traditional gift of flowers, here are other ideas for meaningful and appropriate sympathy gifts to send to a person who is grieving:

  • Charity donation
  • Sympathy gift basket
  • Memorial garden stone
  • Memorial plant or shrub
  • Encouraging book or journal
  • Self-care basket or subscription box
  • Photos of the loved one the family may not have
  • Gift certificates for helpful services, such as housecleaning or lawn care