When someone dies who impacted our lives in some way, it’s hard to know how to acknowledge that with a card.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you put pen to paper:
- Our goal is to reach out, acknowledge, and reflect.
- We want to meet them where they are, without assumption about how they are feeling.
- We’re not trying to “fix” anything, or provide solutions.
- We are showing them with our words & actions that we are present with them in their grief.
- Stay in the present. The future, or any next steps, is irrelevant right now.
- Know that sympathy notes may never be responded to; that’s ok.
When it comes to writing your note:
- Write by hand if possible (commenting on a social media post doesn’t count!)
- If you don’t know what to say, it’s ok to say that.
- Remember that reaching out means more than the words that are said.
- Especially if the person affected is someone close to you, consider sending multiple cards over a course of time (like to acknowledge the first birthday, anniversary, or holiday that comes without a loved one’s presence).
- If there is a (positive!) story or memory to share about the person who died, include it.
If you’re writing a card to someone you have a close relationship with, if it feels appropriate, offer something concrete - like a meal, or a coffee date. Just don’t put the ball in their court (with a phrase like “let me know what you need”), as it places a burden on the person who is grieving to be the one to reach out. It’s up to you to initiate if you choose to offer up your time or resources.
Here’s an example of what you might write to a co-worker, or to someone semi-familiar but not close. It’s fine to keep it simple, short, and to the point.
I am so sorry to hear of the death of ____.
You have my deepest sympathy as you remember them.
Wishing you comfort and peace,
I hope this helps you think about how to approach writing sympathy notes!