Even in writing, offering your condolences for a friend’s of family member’s loss is a difficult and daunting task. However, don’t let your fear of saying something wrong stop you from sending a sympathy card; a well-intentioned letter is always appreciated, regardless of its level of eloquence. Here’s some tips to get you started:
- Begin with a name: Always mention the deceased by name, though it may be painful. It ensures that the sympathy card comes off as personal rather than sterile.
- Offer sympathy to the letter recipient:Address the letter recipient specifically. Let them know that they are in your heart.
- Share a memory: If you can, speak of your experiences or favorite memories of the deceased. Be specific. Letters last a long time, and creating a written record of a memory of their loved one is sure to be appreciated. It not only shows that their loved one continues to live on in your memory, but also ensures that the experience lasts in their memory as well. If you were not familiar with the deceased, try to remember what you have heard from the letter recipient about them: “You always told me how John could make you laugh in any circumstance,” or, “I know how much you looked up to Cecilia; I remember when you told me once. . .” This creates the same personal effect that a memory might.
- Offer specific ways in which you would like to help: Almost every family dealing with loss speaks kindly of the food left by thoughtful friends and family members. Try to think of things that make good leftovers, like lasagna or enchiladas. If you’re not a whiz in the kitchen, offer to run basic errands–driving a child to an activity or school or buying groceries. Any little bit helps, but offering your aid without specifying how you can help can be too overwhelming in such a difficult time.
- End with a sincere condolence, again, and a warm send-off. Try to make your letter meaningful, but not too long. The most powerful letters often are those that knew what to leave out.
Writing a sympathy card is not an easy task, but in following a few basic guidelines, you can create a letter that is not only appropriate but also meaningful.