No one likes writing sympathy cards. It’s a sad time. And it’s hard to know what to say. You want the recipient to know you’re sorry and that you’re there for them, but it’s a fine line between a sweet note overstepping your bounds.
Before you write anything, it’s important to pick the right vessel for your message. Personally, anything that’s really flowery and says “sympathy” on the front makes me cringe. You don’t need a lot of words for this card. Let’s let the inside do the talking. Use something simple, or even a blank card with a nice image on the front will work.
What to write in a sympathy card:
- I’m so sorry.
- I’m sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother.
- I know I don’t have all the right words to say, but I want you to know I’m here if you need me.
- You’re in my thoughts and prayers.
- I’m praying for you.
- I love you.
- We’re praying for peace and comfort for your family.
- May God comfort you with his peace and strength.
- My heart goes out to you.
If you have a fond memory of the person who has passed, it’s ok to include it. If it’s a funny memory, use your best judgment on whether or not it’s appropriate to include it in your note.
If you’re in a place to offer help and feel comfortable doing it, then you should. Offer to bring dinner, watch the kids, rake the leaves while they focus on their family. Be specific, though, on what you’re willing to do. Just saying “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” can seem insincere.
What NOT to write:
- I know how you feel.
- He’s in a better place now.
- Feel better soon.
- It was just her time.
- Time heals all wounds.
- It’s part of God’s plan.
I asked a few friends for their thoughts on what they’d like to see in a sympathy card, whether they were the writer or the recipient…
“I think our gut reaction is to give hope. But I HATED IT when people said (well-intentioned) things like, “all things work together for the good of those who love God.” That’s true, but all I thought was … how about you not trivialize my emotion and my hurt? I think that hope is offensive in the very beginning, hope is important, but it comes AFTER comfort. In the beginning, if you offer hope to a hurting person, it seems to them like you aren’t really seeing their hurt. I’ve found “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” and “Can I help?” are NEVER EVER bad.”
— Kate Conner, kateelizabethconner.com
“Best advice ever from one of our son’s NICU nurses in the middle of his diagnosis: take time to grieve. Even though he was alive, we had to grieve the loss of the “healthy baby” we thought we were getting.” — Kelli Hays, eatprayreadlove.com
“In death, saying kind things about the person who is gone is very nice to read in the card. Fond memories of the person, and “I’m sorry for your loss” were very meaningful to me. Nowadays, just the fact that people took the time to send a card, is a step above and beyond in my opinion (especially for our generation).” — Amy Hudson, creativekidsnacks.com
“Simple is key. Does anyone read those paragraphs on sympathy cards? When my father-in-law died this past year, my eye went straight to the personal note.”
— Rebecca Barth, She Shares Ministries
“After my brother’s accident we were getting cards and food and sweets and gifts and hugs and even toilet paper. But the only thing that really stuck out was a letter I received from one of the brothers in my hubs’ fraternity. ‘Life is too short, too unfair, and we don’t even get to know what will happen next. Sometimes we are handed great sorrow out of nowhere, for no reason. And life seems a bit dimmer – maybe a cloud is no longer beautiful, or a favorite song is ruined. Even delicious cupcakes might seem pointless. But the world goes on, stubbornly unaffected by its latest painful maneuvers. The sun still rises at the same time, and we are dragged along with it, whether we are willing to face the day or not… It is this randomness that gives us life. We wake up in the morning not knowing what the day will bring, and while some days bring us tragedy, other days bring us great accomplishments, joy, friendship, love- all of the things that make us beautiful, that make us human.” The letter goes on to encourage me to look ahead at the things I can celebrate.’”
— Aleks Slocum, aslocumstory.com
Do you have any go-to tips for writing sympathy cards? What would you like to hear if you had to receive one?
Did you know April is National Letter Writing Month? I’m doing a short series on Tuesdays for the rest of the month on how to write a few of the notes we’re most unsure how to write.
How to write a thank you note
What to write in a sympathy card
How to write a love note