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It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has recently lost a loved one. You want them to know you’re thinking of them and share in their sorrow, but you might be struggling to express how you feel in words. 

In this guide, we share ideas for what to write in a condolence card or letter. You’ll also see a few examples that you can adapt for your own condolence message. 

General tips for writing a condolence letter or card

1. Write your sympathy letter by hand 

Even if you don’t have the neatest writing, it’s worth making the effort with a handwritten condolence letter. It will look much more personal compared with a typed message. 

2. Keep it to a few short paragraphs 

A clear, short condolence note can often have more of an impact than a long letter. Plus, grieving family members might not feel ready to read a long message. 

It’s best to say what you want to say and sign off – try not to repeat yourself or go off topic. A few lines can still be warm and comforting for someone dealing with grief. 

3. Be sincere and heartfelt 

If you really don’t know what to say, it’s OK to say that in your letter of sympathy. It’s far better to be honest than be silent, and your efforts are likely to be appreciated. 

4. Consider sharing a special poem 

If you're struggling with how to write condolences, sharing a poem might help. There are many poems about grief and loss, from sad messages to uplifting ones. Once you've found one you like, you could write it out in your condolence letter. You can find a selection of condolence poems here

Consider including a photograph that you treasure with your letter of condolence too. 

How to write a condolence letter 

A condolence letter is a handwritten message that expresses sympathy to someone who has lost a loved one. They’re sometimes called ‘letters of condolence’ or ‘letters of sympathy’. 

Condolence letters are usually longer than sympathy cards – but they don’t have to be. You can make your condolence message as long or as short as you like. 

There aren’t any formal rules about how to write a letter of condolence. But you can use the simple structure below to help you send a heartfelt letter to grieving family or friends. 

How to start a letter of condolence 

Start by addressing the grieving person. A simple ‘Dear [name],’ will be fine. 

What to write in a condolence letter 

In your opening sentence, acknowledge the person’s loss and show that you’ve been thinking of them. You could write ‘I was saddened to hear of [name]’s passing’ or simply ‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss’. 

Next, show your sympathy. Acknowledge the gap left by the person and the important part they played in people’s lives – as a sister, mother or friend, for example. If you met them once or twice, perhaps share a memorable thing they said or an observation about their character. 

If you knew the person well, say what you’ll miss most about them. It might be their sense of humour, their knack for sharing a few wise words or their enthusiasm for the local football team. 

If you didn’t know the person well, offer general expressions of sympathy. Let’s say you’re writing a condolence letter to a friend but you weren’t close to the person who has died. A simple note like ‘I’m sure they will be sorely missed’ will be enough to show that you care. 

How to end a condolence letter 

A good way to end a condolence letter is to offer some practical support. Be clear and specific about the kind of help you can give. For instance, you could remind them you’re only a phone call away or say you’ll be happy to help with shopping or chores. 

However, you should only do this if you’re willing and able to offer this support. It’s best not to make promises that you might not be able to keep. 

Finally, sign off by repeating your message of sympathy. Tell them that you’re there to support them or that they’ll be in your thoughts before signing your name. 

An example condolence letter to a friend 


"Dear Mary,

I was devastated to hear of Stuart’s passing. Know that you are in my thoughts at this difficult time. 

Stuart was one of the kindest and most considerate people you could ever hope to meet. I remember when we all took the train to Blackpool and he gave up his seat for that sweet old lady. It’s a testament to his character that he stood for the whole journey – even though he’d hurt his ankle in that rugby game. I’m sure he will be sorely missed by all those who loved him. 

If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m always here for a cup of tea and a chat if you want to talk. 

Thinking of you, 

[Signature]"

How to write a condolence card 

The main difference between a letter of sympathy and a sympathy card is length. Some cards come with printed messages so you’ll only have room for a short condolence note. Others, like funeral flower cards, are quite small because they’re only meant to include a short message for the funeral. 

If you want to write more, you could always include a letter of condolence with your card. 

Here’s a quick guide to help you decide what to say and how to sign off your sympathy card. 

How to start a sympathy card 

As with sympathy letters, it’s fine to start a condolence card with ‘Dear [name],’. If you’re very short on space, you could just start with the name of the person you’re sending it to. 

What to write in a condolence card 

Most sympathy cards don’t have room to share long anecdotes or memories. So keep things short, simple and sincere. Acknowledge that the person has died and that you were sad to hear the news. Follow this up with a quick message of sympathy. 

Here are some common condolence messages you could use: 

  • You are in my thoughts 
  • You have my deepest sympathy 
  • Sending you love at this difficult time 
  • My love and sympathy to you and your family 
  • I offer my heartfelt condolences 
  • I am lost for words at this sad time 
     

If the person was religious, you could use one of these messages instead: 

  • You are in my prayers 
  • My thoughts and prayers are with you 
  • I pray that God comforts you in your time of grief 
  • May God give you comfort and strength 
  • Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return (an Islamic condolence message) 

How to sign off a sympathy card 

In the UK, it’s common to use a short, sincere farewell message when signing off a sympathy card. Here are a few popular choices: 

  • With caring thoughts 
  • My deepest sympathy
  • Warmest condolences
     

Can you sign off a condolence card with ‘Yours sincerely’? Yes. It’s a polite and well-meaning expression, so it’s perfectly fine to use it as a sympathy card signoff. 

A short sympathy card example 

"Dear Sadia,

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Zahir. My love and sympathy to you and your family. 

Warmest condolences, 

[Signature]"

talk someone going funeral cropped
You might find it easier to offer condolences in person.

Our guide can help you work out what you'd like to say.

Famous condolence letter examples

Here are a few letters of condolence examples from the past. Have a look through – it might help you come up with ideas for your own sympathy letter or card. 

A telegram from Kirk Douglas to Jackie Kennedy 

The actor Kirk Douglas sent this letter of condolence to Jackie Kennedy after the death of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. It’s quite short but very heartfelt. 

"My dear Mrs Kennedy I wish that I were wise enough to be able to say something at this time that could in some way hope to comfort you all I can say is that your tremendous courage is helping the world withstand a tragic loss that everyone feels my wife joins me in extending our deepest sympathy. May god bless you 
 
Kirk Douglas"

A message from King Charles III on the death of Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai was a famous environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. When she died in 2011, many prominent people sent letters of sympathy – including King Charles, who was then the Prince of Wales. This is what he wrote: 

"There are few people who have had such a profound impact on the future direction of humanity than Wangari Maathai. Her understanding of the link between human poverty and the quality of the natural environment undoubtedly influenced a generation of environmentalists and policymakers. It is a tribute to her passionate determination that so many people feel such a deep sense of loss at her passing. 
 
I was fortunate enough to work closely with Wangari on a number of occasions over the years and every time I met her I was struck by both the force of her personality and the quality of her intellect. Her passion shone through in everything she did, from her work on women’s equality to her tireless championing of the rainforests. I, like so many others, will miss her more than it is possible to describe and send my most heartfelt condolences to her children and to everyone who knew her, loved her and depended upon her."

Coping with bereavement

Writing a condolence message is an important show of support for the family and friends of the person who has died. It can also help you begin to come to terms with your own grief. Learn more about coping with bereavement in our advice centre

Photo by Johnce on iStock.