Expressing ourselves in writing can be difficult, especially when it comes to comforting friends and family who have lost a loved one. But it’s worth the time and effort to write a condolence note – even a few words on a store-bought card will show that you care.
Generally, you will want to send your note as soon as possible. A good guideline is within the first two weeks following the loss. If you can, hand write the letter on stationery or a card, rather than using a computer to type and print it.
A letter of condolence is usually sent to the people most affected by the death. But you needn’t feel restricted to just offering your sympathy to the immediate family. If you know any friends or other relatives who were close to the deceased, you may also want to send them a card.
Don’t feel you have to write a lengthy message. Generally, a few heartfelt sentences are enough. Simply express your sympathy and let the recipients know that your thoughts are with them during this difficult time. Sharing a fond memory of the deceased can be a thoughtful addition to the message.
Here are a few steps to follow:
- Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name.
- Express your sympathy.
- Note any special qualities of the deceased that come to mind.
- End the letter with a thoughtful word, a hope, a wish, or expression of sympathy, such as "You are in my thoughts" or “Wishing you God’s peace.” Closings such as "Sincerely," "Love," or "Fondly," aren’t quite as personal.
Depending on your relationship to the bereaved, you may also want to offer help. Instead of the vague promise of “if there’s anything I can do let me know” it is much more useful to be specific. For example, “I'll call next week to schedule a time when I can babysit,” or "I'll cover for you while you're out of the office.”
It may sound like a cliché, but this is the time to be yourself. Go with your instincts; the words that come from your heart are the likeliest to comfort those in mourning.