Writing letters of sympathy and condolence
Writing a letter of sympathy and condolence can be very difficult – expressing your feelings and finding the right words is often a struggle. However, such demonstrations of love and respect – showing how a loved one positively affected the lives of others – can bring great solace to the bereaved, who may keep the letters for years and read them over and over again.
The purpose of a sympathy letter is to honour the life of the deceased and to support the bereaved, and the best letters are those that come from the heart – with personal memories, simply expressed.
Write rather than type your letter, and keep it fairly short. Try to put yourself in the place of the person who is grieving, and think about what would help you in the same situation.
While there are no "rules" about writing letters of condolence, it can help to structure your letter so as to organise your thoughts.
- Acknowledge the loss – say how you heard the news and what your reaction was, but don't dwell on the cause of death or any previous pain and suffering.
- Offer your condolences simply and sincerely.
- Describe your relationship with the deceased, how you felt about them, and what you will miss about them.
- Share your own memories of the deceased – a personal story which illustrates what you liked about them or highlights one of their unique strengths or qualities.
- Offer your help and support. Be specific if you can (for example, do the weekly shop or look after the children one afternoon), but don't make promises you can't keep.
- Extend your condolences to other members of the family.
- Close with an expression of affection and support.
Here are some sample letters to use as the basis for your own words:
I am so sorry to hear about the tragic death of your husband. Alan was an inspiration to everyone he knew, and It was a shock to read the news in the paper. I can't begin to understand how you must be feeling.
Our weekly round of golf was the highlight of the week. Although Alan was the more talented player and nearly always won, he was never anything other than a sporting and generous winner, modestly putting his victories down to luck rather than skill. He will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues at the clubhouse.
I would be honoured to share our memories of Alan at the funeral service if you wish.
My thoughts are with you and your family at this time.
With deepest sympathy.
It was with great sadness that John and I learned about the death of your mother. Elizabeth was enormously proud of you and your sisters, and loved to keep us up to date with her grandchildren's progress.
Elizabeth was one of the kindest, most caring people we knew, and always went out of her way to help friends and neighbours. She used to look after our cat when we went away on holiday, giving him treats and fussing him so much that he was quite disappointed when we returned. We have many cherished memories of "Busy Lizzie" and will always remember her ready smile and open heart.
If you need someone to keep an eye on your mother's house or forward on her mail until her affairs are sorted, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
Please extend our condolences to Carrie, Jean and the rest of your family.
With our affection and sympathy.
Deborah and Charles Smith