Tips for Writing Condolences

Tips for writing condolences.  Whether you're writing to a friend, family member, or an acquaintance who has recently lost someone, these tips will help you to know just what to say.

Wondering how to write condolences? It’s not always easy to express how you feel. There isn’t a perfect combination of words to make the pain of losing a loved one disappear or a single “sorry for your loss” quote that applies to every situation. But the simple act of sending your sympathy means so much to those who are grieving, helping them feel loved and supported. Find inspiration in this guide to write a short, yet sincere, message of hope and comfort.

Consider your relationship and decide how to share condolences.

How do you know the person you are sending condolences to? The nature of your relationship plays a large part in deciding what medium to use. 

If you are close friends, you may want to handwrite a short note to make the words more meaningful. It’s a good idea to type a rough draft first, so you can spell check it and proofread it before writing it on stationary or inside a blank card. 

An email or text message is best suited for relationships of a professional nature — clients, vendors, independent contractors, etc.  — though they may also appreciate receiving a sympathy card. Either way, the phrasing usually reflects the condolences are from a group of people rather than an individual.

— "On behalf of all of us at Globex Corporation, I am writing to express sympathy for your loss. Though we didn’t know your father personally, we know he was an important part of your life from the way you always smiled as you talked about him."

If you knew the deceased but not the next of kin, a simple message in an online guestbook is probably enough. Be sure to lead with your relationship for context and sign your full name so there’s no confusion which “Jennifer” you are.

"I truly enjoyed volunteering with your mother at the agency. Her quick wit and hearty laugh will be missed by all."

What about social media? If you have no other way to contact the person but feel inclined to send them condolences, do so in a private message rather than just leaving a public comment. Include a memory, if possible, to make the gesture more personal. 

— "I was sorry to see the post with your grandfather’s obituary. I remember how much you loved to ride horses with him when we were kids. In the coming days and weeks, I hope you are able to find strength in those memories."

You may also want to send a message in more than one medium. For instance, you might put a handwritten note in your neighbor’s mailbox as soon as you learn of her loss and also write in an online guestbook after attending the memorial service letting her know how beautiful the music was.

Use a tone the recipient will relate to.

Condolences don’t have to be somber, simply sincere. You may choose to use humor or take a lighthearted approach depending on the person you are writing to. 

— "How will the lumber yard stay in business without one of its best customers? I always admired Luke’s woodworking skills and his jovial attitude. He will be missed."

— "Thinking of you and your family as you celebrate Jane’s remarkable life. Hugs!"

If you are in the same church congregation or know the person you are writing to is devout, a message of faith can be very comforting. But it’s not appropriate to use this as an opportunity to convert someone who isn’t religious. Similarly, don’t mention specific ideologies such as heaven if the person believes in reincarnation. It’s usually a good idea to keep religious messages somewhat general.

— "What sweet peace the gospel brings. May you find comfort in your faith and family."

If you aren’t sure what tone will be best received, stick with bereavement messages that are simple and straightforward.

— "My heart goes out to you in your time of sorrow."

— "I hope you know how much you are loved and are able to find strength and solace during this difficult time."

Don’t make it about yourself.

Avoid writing anything along the lines of “I know how you feel.” Every relationship is different and you shouldn’t assume you know exactly what they are going through. Instead, focus on being hopeful and helpful. 

—"It’s never easy to lose someone close to us, but I know you can get through this with grace and grit."

— "May you find comfort and peace in your own personal way."

Something is better than nothing.

Many people struggle with writing condolences — even literary greats like Ernest Hemingway. But it only takes a few words to convey that you care and bring comfort to those who are grieving. In a letter to the son of his long-time friend and publisher upon passing, Hemingway wrote, “This is not a good letter, Charlie. But I feel too sad to write a good one.” If you still aren’t sure what to say after reading this article, you might consider a similar approach to writing condolences. 

— "I was shocked and saddened to learn your brother died. I’m at a loss for words right now, but wanted to let you know how much his friendship meant to me."

Don’t stress over finding the perfect words when composing your thoughts. Sincerity and brevity are the key to writing condolences, not vocabulary.