How To Write A Sympathy Note

Emily Post's Guidelines

When writing a sympathy letter or enclosing a note of condolences with sympathy flowers, the following guidelines and examples should be helpful.

The Letter of Condolence

Intimate letters of condolence are like love letters, in that they are too sacred to follow a set form. One rule, and one only, should guide you in writing such letters.

  • Say what you truly feel.
  • Say that and nothing else.

Sit down at your desk, let your thoughts dwell on the person you are writing to.

Don't dwell on the details of illness or the manner of death; don't quote endlessly from the poets and Scriptures. Remember that eyes filmed with tears and an aching heart cannot follow rhetorical lengths of writing.

Sample Note of Condolence

Perhaps they are not the stars,

but rather openings in Heaven 

where the love of our lost ones

pours through and shines down upon us

to let us know that are happy.

The more nearly a note can express a hand-clasp, a thought of sympathy,above all, a genuine love or appreciation of the one who has gone, the greater comfort it brings.

Write as simply as possible and let your heart speak as truly and as briefly as you can. Forget, if you can, that you are using written words,think merely how you feel-then put your feelings on paper-that is all.

Supposing it is a young mother who has died. You think how young and sweet she was-and of her little children, and, literally, your heart aches for them and her husband and her own family. Into your thoughts must come some expression of what she was, and what their loss must be.

Sample Note of Condolence

Hold tight to memories for comfort, 

lean on your friends for strength, 

and always remember how much you are cared about.

Or maybe it is the death of a person who has left a place in the whole community that will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill, and you think of all they stood for that was fine and helpful to others, and how much and sorely they will be missed.

Or suppose that it is a friend who has died. All you can think of is "what a wonderful person he was! I don't think anything will ever be the same again without him." Say just that!

Ask if there is anything you can do at any time to be of service to his people. There is nothing more to be said. But if you make that offer, follow up a few days later with a phone call reiterating your offer.

Sample Note of Condolence

Our thoughts and prayers are with you 

Although it's difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, 

may looking back in memory help comfort you tomorrow 

May your heart and soul find peace and comfort.

May the blessings of love be upon you, 

May its peace abide with you, 

May its essence illuminate your heart, 

Now and forever more 

A line, into which you have unconsciously put a little of the genuine feeling that you had for that person, is worth pages of eloquence.

A letter of condolence may be abrupt, badly constructed, ungrammatical-never mind. Grace of expression counts for nothing; sincerity alone is of value.

It is the expression, however clumsily put, of a personal something which was loved, and will ever be missed, that alone brings solace to those who are left.

Your message may speak merely of a small incident-something so trifling that in the seriousness of the present, seems not worth recording; but your letter and that of many others, each bringing a single sprig, may plant a whole memory-garden in the hearts of the bereaved.

Examples of Notes

As has been said above, a letter of condolence must above everything express a genuine sentiment. The few examples are inserted merely as suggestive guides for those at a loss to construct a short but appropriate note or card.

Conventional Note to an Acquaintance

I know how little the words of an outsider mean to you just now-but I must tell you how deeply I sympathize with you in your great loss. 

Note to a Friend

All my sympathy and all my thoughts are with you in your great sorrow. If I can be of any service to you, you know how grateful I shall be.

Note to a Very Near Relative or Friend

Words are so empty! If only I knew how to fill them with love and send them to you.

Or:

If love and thoughts could only help you, you should have all the strength of both that I can give.

Letter Where Death Was Release

The letter to one whose loss is "for the best" is difficult in that you want to express sympathy but can not feel sad that one who has long suffered has found release. The expression of sympathy in this case should not be for the present death, but for the illness, or whatever it was that fell long ago. The grief for a paralyzed mother is for the stroke which cut her down many years before, and your sympathy, though you may not have realized it, is for that. You might write:

Your sorrow during all these years-and now-is in my heart; and all my thoughts and sympathy are with you. 

Heartfelt sympathy letters


Sample Note of Condolence

You have lost a mother. Shall I dare tell you the desolation of an old woman who has lost a friend...?

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A downloadable ebook of Heartfelt Sympathy Letters 

How to write a thank-you note. 


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