What to Write in a Sympathy Card
When a friend, family member, or even a colleague loses a loved one, it’s hard to know what to say. Words fail when faced with something as devastating as death, especially if you can’t comfort them in person. But when a person is in mourning, a nice word in a note or personalized card can show them that they are not alone in the world, even if none of us really know how the person who lost someone feels. ‘a. That said, many people let this particularly paralyzing writer block prevent them from sending one. According to Hallmark, sympathy cards represent only 6% of all cards sold each year and more than 90% of them are bought by buyers over 40 years of age.
This statistic could be exceeded this year. A New york times as of April 2020, the cards are sold in pharmacies and local card stores, online and on grocery card shelves. If you are among the many people who are trying to find the right words at an impossible time, you are far from alone. We asked label and communications experts for advice on the perfect message.
Don’t worry about the perfect words
Expressing your sympathy will mean the world to your recipient, even if the way you express it is not exactly Shakespeare. “People shouldn’t think or worry too much about expressing a sincere gesture of condolence,” says a label expert. Diane Gottsman author of Modern label for a better life and founder of Texas Protocol School.“We often don’t know what to say, so we avoid the person or skip the note. As long as you communicate sincere empathy and support, your words will be appreciated.”
To get started, you can start with your own version of:
- Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.
- We are thinking of you, now more than ever.
- We are there for your family, everything you need.
- All my condolences.
Communicate (in writing!) As soon as you can
You should send a note as soon as you hear of their loss, but if you don’t receive a card in the mail the same day, it’s better late than never. “Mourners will appreciate words of support and care long after they have lost a loved one,” said Barrie Davenport, certified personal trainer, author and founder of Live Bold and Bloom. You may want to remedy the delay in writing your card by saying something like:
- I’m really sorry I didn’t reach out earlier, but you kept thinking of me.
- I just heard [loved one’s] passing, and wanted to reach out and share my sincere condolences.
- You and your family have been on my mind since I heard about [loved one’s] who passed.
Here is what do not to write
What you write on this card may depend on your relationship with the missing person and loved ones. Davenport suggests putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about what you might find comforting in times of grief. But avoid awkward feelings like “Everything happens for a reason” or “He left too early” or especially “It was a blessing in disguise”. When someone has lost someone, it doesn’t look like a blessing. And if you don’t know their religious tendencies, mentioning God or heaven may even seem offensive.
Also avoid advice like “Stay Strong” or “You Will Get There”. Although well intentioned, these feelings may seem to undermine their feelings. “Grief is a process unique to everyone who goes through it,” adds Davenport. “The feelings of grief and loss must be felt, and a grieving person does not need to feel compelled to shirk or hide their emotions.”
Rather express your sincere condolences
When writing a sympathy card, sincerity is the key. Think about the cultural norms of your friend or family member and how they usually handle difficult times. For example, you could write something like:
- I know you are heartbroken at the loss of such an incredible and important woman in your life.
- I know how much [the person’s loved one] for you, and I can’t imagine what this loss looks like.
- We were sorry to hear that [the late loved one] spent. I don’t know anything we can say to ease the pain.
Over time, the two experts suggest including three basic elements in a sympathy card:
- Start with sincere condolences
- Share a brief memory of the deceased
- Offer support or help – then follow
If you didn’t know the person, Davenport suggests writing something like:
- Although I never met your mother, she must have been a remarkable woman for raising a daughter like you.
- I know that the happy and positive memories you have of your mother will support and comfort you when you mourn her passing.
If you knew the person, consider sharing happy memories or things you particularly liked about them. Try:
- I always liked when [loved one] and me [did particular activity together]. I will always come back to these moments with fond memories.
- Your [loved one] had a wonderful [character trait or way of relating to others] and I know we will miss it so much.
- Your [loved one] we will be sorely missed [activity they engaged in, like church, a volunteer activity, or leadership capacity]. This world is a little darker without their light.
If you don’t know what their relationship with recently deceased people looked like, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out. Instead, you can just say:
- I can’t imagine how they should feel after the loss of your [loved one]. I’m always there for you if you want to talk about it. Know that you are in my thoughts.
Don’t forget to follow
There is a reason why many people put down pots when a family member dies. We all want to do something to make us feel less helpless in the face of the tragedy. Offer whatever works for you in your note, but don’t forget to do it. Davenport suggests practical assistance such as:
- I know you will be busy with the arrangements next week, so please let me pick up your kids from school and bring them to my house in the afternoon.
- I plan to come next week with groceries and dinner for your family.
- If it helps, we would love to have a meal for you and your family. Please let us know when it is convenient for you.
Even if you don’t live nearby or can’t offer concrete help, saying you’re happy to act like a shoulder to cry on can make them feel loved from afar. Gottsman suggests:
- I will keep you and your family in my thoughts. Know that I am here to support you during this difficult period. Do not hesitate to contact me if you need me. I will get back to you in the coming weeks.
Finish by repeating your care to the person and how much you think about it. And remember, when it comes to sympathy cards, feeling is the important thing. True care will show through, even if your words are not perfect.
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