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OCCASION

What to Write in a Sympathy Card

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

It’s hard to know what to say to someone when a loved one passes. Sending a bouquet is a thoughtful gesture, but you need to send the right message with it. Here you’ll find a quick background on the history of sympathy cards and the perfect note to include with your sympathy bouquet.

Quick Introduction to Sympathy Cards

Sympathy cards were introduced in the 19th century and were traditionally flat cards that announced a person’s death and a few facts about them — similar to today’s obituaries. They had a minimal design, including either an engraving of a tombstone or a mourner with envelopes edged in black.

Hallmark began producing sympathy cards in the 1920s, and they slowly evolved into the folded greeting cards you see today, complete with illustrations of flowers, cursive fonts, and other peaceful images. Often, families keep sympathy cards after losing a loved one and pass them down through generations.

Sympathy Card Etiquette

Picking the first card you see isn’t necessarily the best way to send a sympathy card. Take the time to read the text inside to see if it conveys the message you’re trying to send.

If you’re writing your own message on a sympathy bouquet, try writing it out a few times to make sure you have enough space and be careful to avoid errors. Remember, the primary purpose of a sympathy message is to provide kind words and support to the grieving.

Do You Put Money in a Sympathy Card?

There is debate on whether you should include money in your sympathy card, and the answer comes down to the grieving family’s circumstances. Many families donate money to their loved one’s favorite nonprofit or charity.

If you wish to donate, this information is usually included in the person’s obituary.

If the family is suffering extreme financial hardship after the death of their loved one, you may choose to include cash or a check with your sympathy card.

Sympathy cards attached to a bouquet typically aren’t large enough to secure money or checks safely.

What is an Appropriate Sympathy Gift?

Sympathy flowers are an appropriate gift to send in almost all situations. If you’re looking to send another gift that celebrates the life of a loved one, here are a few options.

  • A tree they could plant in remembrance
  • A memorial lantern engraved with the loved one’s name
  • A snowglobe with a comforting message on the base
  • Windchimes
  • A garden rock inscribed with a special message
  • Window ornament

How Is Sympathy Shown?

Before we get into what to write in a sympathy card, let’s talk about other ways people show sympathy because let’s face it: cards may not be your favorite way to show support.

By definition, sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone else because something bad happened to them. You may have sympathy for someone who crashed their car after only having it for two weeks or for someone who suddenly lost their job. Sympathy is most commonly expressed after a death.

Sympathy can be shown in verbal and nonverbal ways. For example, sending a sympathy card or speaking to someone about how sorry you are to hear about a person’s death are verbal. Non-verbal expressions of sympathy include patting someone on the shoulder, hugging someone, touching their arm or hand while they speak, and/or simply listening and maintaining eye contact.

What Makes a Good Sympathy Message?

Your recipient will appreciate you taking the time to leave a heartfelt message in a sympathy card. Even if you didn’t know the person well, your words will make a difference.

There may be no such thing as the perfect sympathy message in any given situation, but as long as you are thoughtful, kind, and empathetic, you’ll get your point across and send a message that’s straight from your heart.

A few other tips:

  • Keep it brief. The bereaved may not have the time or energy to read a long letter no matter how much thought you put into it. If you want to keep the conversation going, offer to meet up for coffee or food.
  • Offer to help. Be specific in your offer, too. Instead of just saying “let me know how I can help,” say “I’ll be over this week to help with ___. Which day is best for you?”
  • End it with an appropriate signoff (more on that below)


Keep reading to learn what not to write in a sympathy card.

Sympathy Card Messages

Depending on the circumstances, there are different types of messages you could include in your sympathy card. A good rule of thumb is to avoid referencing religion unless you are familiar with the family’s beliefs.

Tips for Crafting a Heartfelt Sympathy Message

To write a heartfelt sympathy message, there are a few elements you should include:

  • Writing in the first person. Write about your experience with the deceased by telling an anecdote or sharing a memory. They will appreciate that you cherished your time with their loved one.
  • Make it personal. Take the time to write their name or their family name on the card.
  • Acknowledge the death. This may seem obvious, but not acknowledging their loved one’s death may come across as ignorant or disingenuous. Saying something as simple as “I am sorry to hear about ___’s passing,” will suffice.
  • Share a memory, reflection, or appreciation. As mentioned before, be sure to let the bereaved know that you appreciated their loved one, whether it be by sharing a memory, telling an anecdote, or saying how lucky you were to know them.
  • Include one of your favorite photos of the deceased. Sharing a photo you took will show their loved one in a different light that they will appreciate in these darker times.
  • Length: While there is no right or wrong length for a sympathy message, brief tends to be better when you think about all the other sympathy cards they may have to get through.

Below, we outline a few sympathy message examples that depend on the situation. When in doubt, keep your message simple. You’ll still get your point across.

Condolences

Condolences are an expression of sympathy, most commonly used after a person’s death. When you send condolences, you recognize the loss of a person’s loved one. Here are a few examples you can write in your sympathy card:

  • Please accept our sincerest condolences
  • Our family sends our condolences
  • We are so sorry for your loss
  • I’m sorry to hear about the loss of ___.
  • I am honored to have known your ___. I am so sorry to hear about your loss.

Appreciation

To express your appreciation for someone who has passed, consider writing the following messages in your sympathy card:

  • Your ____ was a pillar of the community and touched so many people’s lives
  • We are honored to have known ____. They changed our lives in so many ways (include an example).
  • Your father was a remarkable person who lived an extraordinary life. We are so thankful we knew him.

Offer to Help

It’s natural to want to help a grieving family in their time of need. When writing an offering message in your sympathy card, it’s best to be as specific as possible.

A phrase that isn’t particularly helpful is “Call me if you need anything.” While good intentions are there, your acquaintance may not know what they need at that moment and are too overwhelmed to think about it. Here is what you can say instead:

  • I will bring you dinner this week, and I will coordinate with Tina for the best day and time.
  • I’ll be over on Thursday to help you clean/do laundry/cut your grass.
  • Can I take/pick up the kids to/from school this week?
  • Can I watch your kids for a few hours to give you a break?

Sudden or Unexpected Death

When a death is sudden or unexpected, it can be hard to find the right words to say. Here are a few phrases to include in your sympathy card.

  • We are thinking of you during this difficult time
  • They will be deeply missed
  • Our thoughts are with you
  • There are no words to express our sadness
  • We wish you comfort and peace

When You Can’t Attend Memorial/Funeral

If you’re unable to attend the memorial service or funeral for someone, here are a few messages you could include in your sympathy card.

  • I’m sorry we couldn’t be there to celebrate the life of ___. You and your family are in our thoughts.
  • I’m sorry we couldn’t attend your service for ___. Our family sends our condolences.
  • We weren’t able to attend __’s service, but you and your family have been in our thoughts. I’ll coordinate with __ to drop off dinner this week.

Loss of Spouse or Partner

If someone you know is grieving the loss of a spouse or partner, here are some words of comfort you can include.

  • Our thoughts are with you after the loss of your spouse
  • We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your partner
  • We’re sending our condolences for the loss of your spouse. He was an incredible person and will live on in our hearts.
  • Your partner was an amazing person, and we are so sorry for your loss
  • Find comfort knowing your partner touched many lives. You and your family are in our thoughts.

Miscarriage Sympathy Message

What do you write when someone loses a baby? When the parents-to-be are in the depths of despair, you need to find the right words to provide comfort. Here are a few suggestions.

  • There are no words to heal you, but I am here if you want to talk. So sorry for your loss.
  • We are thinking of you and your family
  • We are sending you our love and support
  • We know how much this baby was loved and wanted. We’re sending you love and comfort during this difficult time.
  • You and your baby are constantly on my mind and in our hearts.

If you didn’t know the person very well, trying to be too heartfelt in a sympathy card could come off as disingenuine. Don’t make it too complicated, and your message will be received. If you did know the person well, feel free to include a favorite memory or maybe a song that makes you think of them.

Sympathy Message for When Someone Has Died by Suicide

Losing someone to suicide is devastating and sometimes isolating for the victims. What do you say to someone grieving this tragedy? In this situation, it’s essential to offer condolences without judgment. Here are a few messages you could include in your sympathy card.

  • He was a loyal friend and played a significant role in my life. I am so sorry for your loss.
  • I can’t imagine what your family must be going through. We send our deepest condolences.
  • There are no words for something this heartbreaking. We are sending love to your family in this difficult time.
  • I wish your family didn’t have to know this pain. I am so sorry this happened.

Condolences for Losing a Parent

There are lots of kind words to send to someone grieving the loss of a parent. If you think about what your parents mean to you, you may be able to pull some of that feeling into it, or maybe you have lost a parent already and remember how you felt. Either way, be sure you don’t make your message about yourself. Here are a few things you could say to someone grieving the loss of a parent.

  • Your mother was a wonderful woman and always treated me kindly. She will be missed.
  • It’s so hard to say goodbye to someone you’ve known all your life. We are thinking of you.
  • I was lucky to know someone like your mother. She meant so much to this community. I’m so sorry to hear of her passing.
  • I didn’t know your father well, but he must have been pretty special to raise someone like you. He will be missed.
  • I feel so honored to have known your mother. I will never forget when (include a memory). We’re thinking of you.

Sympathy Message for the Loss of a Child

A parent should never have to outlive their child. This is a devastating event, and it can be tough to know what to say to a parent or grandparent who is genuinely living through their worst days. Here are a few short condolence messages you can include in your card.

  • They were such a unique, thoughtful, and beautiful child. I am so sorry you are going through this pain.
  • Your child brought me so many smiles. I will never forget their beautiful face. Our thoughts are with you.
  • They filled the world with so much light and joy. We are always thinking of ___ and your family.
  • They were so loved and will be still. We’re thinking of you and your family.

Sympathy Note for Loss of a Pet

Pets are family members, and their absence is hard to ignore when they die. Here are a few comforting words you could send to someone feeling this pain.

  • “You gave ___ the best life, and I know they enriched yours. We are so sorry for your loss.”
  • “___ was such a good ___. I’m so sorry you had to say goodbye.”
  • “You had such great fun with ___. I’ll never forget when (include memory). Thinking of you and your family.”
  • Losing a member of the family is never easy.
  • [Pet] was so lucky to have chosen you. You gave them the best life.

Writing a Sympathy Card Message for Family Members

Just because they’re family, it doesn’t mean you know all the same people. Your sympathy message for family members will depend on your relationship with the family member and on your relationship with the deceased.

If you know your family member’s deceased loved one, make the message more personal. Include a favorite memory, a song that reminds you of them or what you liked best about the person. A sympathy message could include:

  • “Your ___ always bragged about how great you are. They were so proud of you. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “___ meant so much to me. I’ll never forget the time they (include memory). It brings me so much joy when I think about it. Sending you love.”
  • “Whenever I see ___ I think of your ___ and their love of ___. I am so sorry for your loss. I’ll never forget the impact they had on my life.
  • “I’m sorry you’re feeling this pain right now. Your ___ was an extraordinary person.”


If you don’t know the deceased family member, stick with a simpler sympathy message.

  • “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now. So sorry for your loss.”
  • “Our family sends our heartfelt condolences. We’re thinking of you and yours.”
  • “I’ve heard such great stories about ___ and I know their loss will be felt. Sending you peace and strength.”

Writing a Sympathy Card Message for Friends

A sympathy message for a friend can be conditional depending on your relationship with your friend and their deceased loved one. If you knew their loved one, include a favorite memory or something that reminds you of them. Include messages such as:

  • “I’m sorry to hear about the passing of ___. I was so lucky to know them.”
  • “I am sorry to hear about ___. Whenever I think of them, I remember (include memory), and it brings me such joy. They will be missed.”
  • Your ___ will be missed. I am so grateful to have known them.”

If you didn’t know your friend’s family member, keep your message more straightforward.

  • Loving thoughts go out to you and your family. I am so sorry for your loss.
  • I know ___ had big impact on your life. They will be missed.
  • Sorry for your loss. I know ___ meant a lot to you. I hope you can find peace during this difficult time.

Writing a Sympathy Card Message for a Colleague

Depending on your relationship with your colleague, this sympathy message could either take a formal or informal tone if you are sending the card as an individual. See above for examples depending on the circumstances of the person’s death. If you know your colleague well, it’s OK to be conversational.

If you’re sending the card on behalf of the office, consider these sympathy notes:

  • “The entire office is thinking of you and your family.”
  • “We’re sorry to hear about the loss of your ___.”
  • “The office is sending our deepest condolences to you and your family.”

Writing a Sympathy Card Message for Acquaintances

What do you say to someone you don’t know very well when they’re grieving? No matter your relationship, they will appreciate that you’re thinking of them. In these cases, it’s best to keep it formal and straightforward. Here are a few examples of sympathy messages for an acquaintance:

  • “Thinking of you during these difficult times.”
  • “We wish to express our warmest condolences.”
  • “Sorry to hear about the passing of ___. Your family is in our thoughts.”
  • “I wish you strength and support in the coming days.”

What to Write When Someone Passes After a Long Illness

It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has cared for their loved one for so long and have it end in their death. We have a few ways you can craft a thoughtful message for someone who dies after a long illness.

  • “I am so sorry to hear about the passing of ___. Take comfort in knowing that you cared for them so long and so lovingly. No one could have done better.”
  • “We were sad to hear that ___ had died, but relieved for both of you that the painful struggle had ended. Please accept our warmest condolences.”
  • “I cannot imagine what you are feeling right now. Take comfort in knowing ___ had the best care and that you were there for them every step of the way.”
  • “This has been a trying year for you, __. Your being there for __ throughout their illness was certainly an act of love.”

Religious Sympathy Messages

Before sending a sympathy card with religious references, take the time to consider how well you know the person. Even if you know them well and know them to be religious, you may not necessarily know how devout they are.

A few religious sympathy messages include:

  • “Our prayers are with you and your family.”
  • “We hope God blesses and comforts you during this difficult time, and carries ___’s soul to Heaven.”
  • Know that ___’s soul is in Heaven, and you’ll be reunited with them again in the future.”
  • We pray that God gives you comfort and strength during this difficult time.
  • We are praying for you and the soul of your loved one.

A few popular comforting passages from the Bible include:

  • “My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life.” Psalms 119:50
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
  • “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
  • “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4
  • “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalms 46:1
  • “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:22

What is a Good Ending for a Sympathy Card?

Like so many of our tips above, how you end a sympathy card depends on how well you know the person you’re sending it to. Ending a card with “love” may not be appropriate for a coworker, whereas “From” may be too impersonal for someone you’ve known for years.

Here are a few ways to end your sympathy card message:

  • With sympathy
  • Sending thoughts and prayers
  • Thinking of you
  • Thinking of you and your family
  • With love
  • With loving memories
  • Our sincere sympathy
  • With loving thoughts
  • Sending my deepest condolences
  • Remembering ___ always
  • Wishing you peace and comfort
  • Wishing you healing and comfort
  • May time bring you peace and healing
  • We are always here for you

What Not to Write in a Sympathy Card

Sending a sympathy card should provide peace and comfort to the recipient. You’ll want to avoid any language that reminds them of the pain they are in or needlessly rewinds to the day their loved one died. Here are a few phrases to avoid writing:

  • It’s all for the best
  • It happened for a reason
  • I know how you’re feeling
  • You should…
  • It’s time to move on
  • You/things will go back to normal soon
  • They were too young
  • You’ll find someone else
  • Stay positive
  • It could have been worse
  • At least you have other children
  • You won’t be alone forever
  • They’re in a better place
  • God has a plan
  • God doesn’t give you more than you can handle
  • Focus on the good times you had

Finally, don’t make the sympathy card about you. While you may have experienced something similar to what your friend or loved one is going through, it’s not the same, and it’s not about your experience.

When Should You Not Send a Sympathy Card?

A sympathy card should be sent within two weeks of the person’s death. There are many reasons you may send a sympathy card later than that, including finding out about the person’s death later or not knowing what to say in the card, and that’s OK. No matter when you send the card, your note will be appreciated.
Some people think that sending a sympathy card months after a person’s death will reopen painful emotions, but consider this: they are living through that grief every day. A heartfelt sympathy card may be the comfort they need to get them through that day.

Don’t worry about explaining why your card is coming to them late — your message is all they need.

Who to Send a Sympathy Card To

Sympathy cards are usually sent to the deceased’s next of kin. If you didn’t personally know the deceased, send your card or bouquet to the person you knew closest within the family. If the grieving person is a friend and you don’t personally know their family, just send the card to your friend.

Following Up

Sending a sympathy card is a great way to connect with a grieving person or family, but you should also consider following up with them after the fact. They’ll appreciate knowing that they are not alone. A few ways you could follow up include:

  • Send a gift like some of the ones mentioned above. Call them to ask how they’re doing. If they don’t want to talk, they’ll let you know.
  • Offer to cook a meal, pick up groceries, or do other household chores.
  • Invite them to either come over or go out with you.
  • Reach out on important anniversaries (wedding, birthday, death) to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Everyone heals from grief in their own way and it may take a while during their time of sorrow. It’s not your place or your job to dictate how they should feel or live their lives in these moments. The best you can do is offer support when they need it or lend them an ear when they need to talk.

FAQS

What is a Good Sympathy Message?

There are a few components every sympathy message needs to contain: A personalized greeting, acknowledgment of the person’s death, a message of condolence (can be combined with acknowledgment), an anecdote or memory depending on your relationship, and a warm closing. Example:

Dearest Mary, I am so sorry to hear about John’s passing. As his partner, I know he meant the world and more to you, and his loss will be felt for years to come. I cannot even imagine how you feel and I am so sorry you have to live with this pain. I am sending my deepest sympathies and keeping you and your children in my thoughts.

With love, Martha

How Do You Express Sympathy?

Sympathy can be expressed in verbal and nonverbal ways. To express sympathy in a verbal way, write your message on a card, in a calling hours guest book, or speak to the person directly.

To express sympathy in a nonverbal way, consider holding the bereaved’s hand or touching their arm while they speak, hugging them, patting them on the back or shoulder, or just offering your ear and maintaining eye contact.

What Can I Say Instead of ‘Sorry for Your Loss’?

There are lots of ways to express your sympathy besides saying the classic “I’m sorry for your loss.” Here are a few ideas.

  • You and your family are in my thoughts.
  • I am here for you.
  • We are sending our deepest condolences for the loss of ____.
  • I am so sorry you’re having to go through this painful time.
  • You have all of the support and love from those closest to you.
  • I was devastated to hear of your loss.
  • May the thoughts and memories of your loved one offer your some comfort during this painful time.
  • I wish you peace and solace to help you cope. I am here for you.

What Do You Say to a Person Who Lost Someone?

Many of the things you choose to write to someone in a sympathy card can also be spoken to them in person. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel — just keep it more conversational rather than formal. Once the conversation has started, be sure to listen to them with empathy and avoid judgment. If you aren’t sure of what to at any time, simply show your support by letting them you know are there for them.

A few ideas on what you can say:

  • I’m sorry for your loss
  • I’m here for you
  • My favorite memory of ___ was when…
  • I cannot imagine how you feel right now, but I am here to help you through

Other ways you can help someone who is grieving include:

  • Sending care packages
  • Offer to keep them company
  • Complete errands for them
  • Cook for them
  • Reach out on important anniversaries to let them know you’re thinking of them

What Should I Not Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

Everyone grieves in different ways, but there are a few things you shouldn’t say to people grieving a loved one.

  • It’s for the best
  • It happened for a reason
  • I know how you’re feeling
  • It’s time to move on
  • You/things will go back to normal soon
  • They were too young
  • You’ll find someone else
  • Stay positive

It’s hard to know what to say to someone when a loved one passes. Sending a bouquet is a thoughtful gesture, but you need to send the right message with it. Here you’ll find a quick background on the history of sympathy cards and the perfect note to include with your sympathy bouquet.