How to Write a Sympathy Card

Writing a sympathy card to someone after they lose a loved one can feel very difficult, and the right words can seem impossible to find. The most important part of a sympathy card is simply letting the bereaved know that you are thinking about them and want to express your support. While the card will not take away the pain of their loss, there is comfort in knowing that you care.  

In general, sympathy cards do not need to be long; sometimes a brief message is all that is necessary or preferred. Simply letting them know that you are thinking of them by sending condolences is the most important part. Read below for more tips on what to include and avoid when writing a sympathy card. 


Some things to include:  

Express sympathy: Let them know that you are sad that they are dealing with this loss. Name the deceased person and acknowledge the loss. Sometimes people tend to avoid stating specifics for fear that it would be perceived as harsh or inappropriate, but it is better to say the person’s name and acknowledge that they have passed away. By doing this, you let them know that it is okay to talk about their loss going forward.  

Celebrate the person they lost: For someone you knew personally, you could share a memory of them or something about them that you will miss. If you do not know them, perhaps you know something about them and can communicate a positive message about their life. These sentiments can mean a lot to those who have lost someone.  

Thoughtful closing: Add a warm closing that is respectful and appropriate to their loss. 


Some things to avoid: 

Positive aspects of loss: This is not the time for cheering someone up or reminding them to look on the bright side. Avoid offering phrases that start with “at least…” or “you can be grateful for…” which diminish their grief experience.  

Religious sentiments: Faith and religion are personal, so even if you know that a person is a member of a church or religion, this is not the time for religious statements. These can seem dismissive of the grief they are experiencing. 

Unsolicited advice: People who have just experienced a loss should not be offered advice that they do not ask for. Offering advice can be seen as superficial and even hurtful. Everyone grieves in their own way, so avoid trying to “help” by suggesting what they should do. 

Your own experience of loss: It can be tempting to relate to someone else’s experience by sharing our own, but this can feel like an effort to minimize the gravity of their current situation. By avoiding bringing up your own experience with loss, you honor what they are going through. 

Vague offers of support: A generalized statement of “I am here for you” or “let me know how I can help” can feel empty and disingenuous. If you are able to do something for the bereaved, be specific in your offer (for example, “I’m planning to bring dinner on Thursday—let me know a good time to drop off the food” or “I’ll call next week to check in on how you’re doing”). 



Here is an example letter that can be personalized to fit your situation: 

 Dear (bereaved’s name), 

I was so sad to hear about your loss. I hope that during this time after losing (deceased’s name), you feel surrounded by support. I will never forget…(a memory of the deceased if you knew them). I’m sharing in your sadness as you remember (him/her/them) and thinking of you as you celebrate (deceased’s name)’s life. 

With heartfelt sympathy, 

(your name) 


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