Writing Sympathy Notes

Sooner than we want, we need to write sympathy cards. Not all cards available at the drug store work well. It’s far kinder to write your own note. Nothing is more comforting than a hand-written note to a friend in mourning.

Knee-jerk reaction reaches for “I am sorry for your loss,” and while there is nothing wrong with the thought, it’s been overused so much that it’s a threadbare hand-me-down from your heart.

Other things not to put in a sympathy card:

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

“I know exactly how you feel, my _______ died last year.” Even worse is when you are comforting someone who is mourning the death of  a human and your pet died.

“Your loved one is with God now.” You don’t know what happens after death, and if you don’t know what the other person’s religious beliefs are (or aren’t), leave predictions out of it.

“You can be happy their suffering is over now.” The word “happy” or “glad” or “relieved” should not appear in a condolence card. Ever.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe that’s what you believe, but it cheats the other person out of mourning and demands that they cheer up.

“It could be worse. This friend of mine. . .” This is not the time to share drama in your life. It will not make your friend feel better about their loss.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Again, this makes a person in mourning feel that they should handle their grief better. Everyone mourns in their own way.

Things you can say:

“May your memories comfort you.”

“Our thoughts [or prayers] are with you and your family.”

sympathy-card-sage“With thoughts of comfort and peace for you.”

“Our hearts go out to you in this sad time.”

“We remember [the person who died] with loving memories.”

“May you be surrounded by the love and comfort of friends and family.”

Use a soft-color stationery–cream, gray, blue. No pink or  yellow, and nothing with a bright floral theme. No typing and printing it in a handwriting font. Use a pen and hand write the words as if you were speaking to your friend. It’s more comforting.

And your friend will stay your friends and be there to comfort you when you need it.

-Quinn McDonald is comforting a friend at the sudden death of her husband. Some of what she hears said is odd, bordering on strange.




18 thoughts on “Writing Sympathy Notes

  1. I always write on get-well cards (or “sorry you’re ill” cards) … it started a million years ago when I was in the hospital for a week (shows how long ago) having had a hysterectomy for ovarian cancer. I would get loads of cards, bless them all, but my main problem was boredom, and though they were appreciated, looking through cards with just a signature took only a few minutes. So I started writing a cheery note.

    As I’ve gotten older and have had occasion to send more sympathy cards, it’s carried over to that as well.

    When our mom died, my sister told her massage therapist “I’m not handling this well” and her massage therapist said “why the &*^^ should you handle it well … your mother just died.” That comes in handy in a lot of situations, especially for people who are being told to “buck up.” As a friend said, “I’m tired of being ‘bucked up'”

    When my dad died, my boyfriend called and asked how I was doing. I said, sadly, “not so good, it’s Monday night, my night to talk to Daddy” (we had a standing phone call time on Monday nights). My boyfriend said “don’t give me that … I’ve been at your house lots of times when you were talking to your dad and rolling your eyes, pantomiming yawns, etc.” That may sound harsh, but it was helpful to me because I was in danger of canonizing Daddy, and he was no saint. It was a good reminder that yes, he had annoying habits, and that didn’t make me a bad daughter that I rolled my eyes at him.

    One or the other of those stories is often useful, if I know the person’s situation enough to know what they are likely struggling with. “Thinking of you” is also helpful.

    • Lucky he was your boyfriend and not mine. I have an 11-inch cast iron skilled that I can swing with great accuracy. But that’s part of the knack–knowing the person often gives you permission to say things you would not say to people you don’t know well. And yes, there are many ways to help people.

  2. Well said Quinn, wel said.
    A friend’s granddaughter died suddenly and she rang me to let me know and ask me to come to the funeral the next day . . . of course I dropped everything and did so: friends in need come before work. When I saw her I just folded her up in a hug and eventually said “I don’t know what to say.” Her response? “Neither do I.” We just hugged for quite a while . . . with tears un-checked.

  3. oh, and the worst thing to do in any tragedy? Disappear because you ‘just don’t know what to say.’ Nothing sends the message that you don’t give a darn more than absence and silence.

  4. If your brain goes blank (and mine often does), the one thing to say over and over again is I’m sorry to hear this, I’m so sorry about this. It’s never good to say anything that diminishes the loss. Spot on, Quinn. Bring food or drink (even providing bottled water works).

    • I showed up today with some nut/seed bread that I eat instead of “real” bread, largely because I had just made it and I wasn’t going to turn on the oven again. (It was 112 degrees here today) It was “only” bread, but no one else brought it, so it rounded out the menu. And yes, water is another thing that can be a nice, useful supply. And being sorry is a great thing to say, it shows compassion.

  5. As a pastor’s wife, I have cringed so many times at what people unthinkingly say. Your suggestions are perfect. Absolutely perfect. I have a dear friend whose husband died suddenly in February. Our women’s network, that we both belong to, organized the funeral reception, did all we could to help, and to keep her company when she wanted company. (We even helped her pull together tax information, since her husband had always done that.) Weeks after the funeral, I contacted Ellie’s Way, because my friend was crying for hours every day. While this may NOT be appropriate for everyone, it was greatly comforting to her, so I am passing along the link. I repeat, while it was perfect for her, it is not appropriate for all. http://elliesway.org/
    Thanks for writing this, Quinn. It is greatly needed.

    • You touched on something really important–a lot of people don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. I get that. But most people send a card, take over a casserole and then, a month later, forget that the person still may need help, still may be mourning. Without our speeded up news cycle, we think that a month is plenty of time to “find closure.” Death doesn’t have closure, you just learn how to live with it.

      • In the “later-on” time, helping your friend or loved one do something useful is also a good thing. We just got back from vacation. While I have had someone in the past who came in to check on my cats, I asked my friend if she would like to do it. It would give her time out of her house, and two furbabies to love on. You would have thought I had given her gold! Feeling useful is a powerful thing!

  6. How timely, Quinn. A friend’s husband committed suicide day before yesterday. I haven’t seen her yet and this was a helpful.reminder to just “be there” for her not try to “make it better”. .

  7. Good Morning – I love this post – lots of laughter here before you get serious – and such good advice.

    Sudden death – so hard for those left behind. Sympathy for your friend and for you too.

    Hugs, Ilsa

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.