It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has experienced the recent loss of a loved one. You want them to know you are thinking of them and share in their sorrow, but you might be struggling to express those sentiments in words. Here is our guide to writing a condolence letter.
There are no formal ‘rules’ about writing letters of condolence, but following the simple structure below can help organise your thoughts to those going through bereavement.
Keep it short
A clear, concise note can often have more of an impact than a long, rambling letter. Grieving family members are unlikely to want to read an essay, so say what you want to say and sign off – don’t repeat yourself, don’t go off topic and don’t hide behind lengthy, unnecessary sentences. A few lines can still be warm and comforting for someone dealing with grief.
You haven’t got the solution
It’s highly unlikely you are going to remove the pain of losing somebody special with a greetings card, so don’t try to explain away or rationalise the death. You are not expected to make everything better and offering advice or sentiments along the lines of ‘keep your chin up’ could be construed as patronising.
If you really don’t know what to say, it’s ok to acknowledge that in your letter. It’s far better to be honest than go silent, and your efforts are sure to be appreciated. Immediately acknowledge the recipient’s loss, and make it clear that you are also mourning the deceased.
Tell the recipient what it is you will miss about the deceased – it might be their sense of humour, their knack for sharing a few wise words or their enthusiasm for the local football team. Consider sharing a fond memory or sending a photograph that you treasure. It’s a sad time, but it’s also important to celebrate the life of the person who has passed away so don’t worry about stirring up emotions – acknowledge the gap left by the person and the important part (for example, as a friend, mother, sister etc) they played in people’s lives. If you did not know the deceased person well, offer general expressions of sympathy.
Sign off with a nod to the future
End your note sincerely – for example, ‘with caring thoughts’, ‘my deepest sympathy’ or ‘warmest condolences’ – and repeat your message of support. That might mean reminding the recipient that you are thinking of them, that you are only a phone call away or that you are happy to come visit as soon as they are ready for guests. Be proactive too, and tell them that you will be in touch again soon.
And remember, even if you don’t have the neatest writing, it’s worth making the effort to handwrite your letter as it will look much more personal compared to a typed message.