Sending a condolence message is a gentle way to demonstrate your care and support for the bereaved. Messages of support and understanding are deeply appreciated; receiving condolence notes is an important part of the grieving process.
When it comes to putting pen to paper, many people just can’t find the words to write in a sympathy card. We have created this piece on how to write a condolence message to help you find the confidence to write the words that will mean so very much to the grieving.
How do I structure a condolence message?
If you would like to write a letter or a longer form of condolence message, this suggested structure might provide a helpful framework for your thoughts.
- Provide a Context
Begin by letting the bereaved know how you found out about the loss. This will provide a context for your message and a foundation for your thoughts.
I met with your sister-in-law in town last week and she told me of the death of your brother.
- Express your Feelings
Continue with a brief description of your feelings upon hearing of the loss, you could express your sadness and offer your sympathy in this section of the condolence message.
I was very sorry to hear of your loss and I imagine the last couple of weeks have been very difficult for you and your family.
- Include a Reflection
You might like to provide a short and positive reflection on the personality traits of the deceased. The person receiving your sympathy message will appreciate your thoughtful insights into the character of their loved one.
Eric was such a creative man, he had a fine talent for photography and he was always generous in offering his advice and sharing his skills.
- Share an Anecdote
The sharing of stories and anecdotes is a very important part of the grief journey. If you can recall a special memory about the loved one try to share the story in your condolence message.
Last Christmas Eric was very kind to me when I couldn’t understand the different settings on my new camera. He taught me a few nifty tricks and we shared a chuckle over my blurred attempts at family portraits.
- Offer Support
It can be helpful to close your condolence note with an offer of support. Rather than placing the burden on the deceased by inviting them to contact you ‘when they need support,’ try to be specific and definite about your plans.
I know you like to keep your front lawn trim, from next week I will be around to mow each Monday. At least that will be one less thing you need to think about organising for the next few months.
What should I write in a short condolence message?
If you are writing in a card, or a condolence book, you might prefer to write a brief message of sympathy. The following phrases are all appropriate for short condolence messages:
- We are deeply saddened to hear of your loss.
- Our hearts are with you in this time of sorrow.
- Please accept our heartfelt condolences on the loss of your loved one.
- Words can’t express how sorry we are to hear of your loss.
- Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you during this sad time.
Are there any quotes I could include in a sympathy message?
Have a think about the poetry, literature, songs and prayers that remind you of the deceased. You might like to include a few lines from a favourite poem or song as this can serve to evoke fond and comforting memories for loved ones.
Some examples of famous quotes and phrases that could be included in a condolence message include:
- A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again. Maya Angelou.
- The angels are always near to those who are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hand of God. Eileen Elias Freeman.
- When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Kahlil Gibran.
- While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. John Taylor
- Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Rossiter Worthington Raymond
For a further selection of prayers, bible verses and blessings to include in a condolence message, please refer to our Funeral Planning Guide.
What should I avoid writing in a sympathy card?
When you are trying to compose a condolence message, you are seeking to express your love, compassion and empathy for the grieving person. The last thing you want to do is to cause further upset or confusion. There is a degree of etiquette with words of sympathy and we would suggest avoiding the following themes:
Don’t make comparisons
Sharing the details of your own experience with grief, and then drawing comparisons with the current situation is not helpful. A comparison can make people feel their feelings of grief are being misunderstood or belittled.
Don’t express relief
Even after a long illness, it is not very tactful to express relief that an ‘ordeal is finally over.’ In private moments, the bereaved may be having these thoughts, but mentioning this in a condolence message could exacerbate feelings of guilt. A phrase like ‘her pain is over and she is at peace’ is a more subtle option.
Don’t mention money
A condolence message is not the place to raise questions about the Will, bring up old debts or lay claim to items that the deceased might have promised you. These discussions are important but are best kept separate from a condolence note.
Don’t take sides
Leave out any mention of family feuds or friendship disputes, although these things are common and can be heightened by the emotions associated with grief, a condolence card is not an appropriate place to mention them.
Don’t tell people to look on the bright side
Although well-intended, encouraging people to ‘cheer up’ and ‘look on the bright side’ after the loss of a loved one is unlikely to be a helpful instruction.
Sometimes a straightforward acknowledgement of the difficult time they are experiencing is best and this can be balanced by the inclusion of a happy memory or anecdote.
Further advice and information regarding common funeral etiquette can be found in our article, Funeral Etiquette: Your Questions Answered.