8 Simple Tips For Writing A Condolence Message
A condolence message, or sympathy message, is a note that you send to someone when their loved one dies. Sending a condolence message to someone who has recently lost a loved one is a thoughtful way to let them know that you’re thinking of them during a difficult time.
It can be difficult to know where to start with writing a condolence message, especially if you haven’t written many formal letters before. It can be hard to put your emotions into words, especially feelings around grief, loss, or sadness. This isn’t something many of us are used to doing. You might be hesitant to write a condolence message for fear of saying the wrong or inappropriate thing.
Keep reading to learn how to write a heartfelt condolence message with a few simple and easy tips from us.
We’ve also included an example condolence message for your reference.
These are the main guidelines we’ll be covering below:
- When to send a condolence message
- What to include in a condolence message
- What to leave out in a condolence message
- An example of a condolence note
- Handwritten condolence message vs. Social Media condolence message
- Helpful Resources on supporting a friend through grief, talking about death, helping children cope with grief, how to write a eulogy
1. Send a condolence message within 2 weeks
We recommend sending a condolence message within two weeks of the death of a loved one. Try to stick to this timeframe if you’re able to.
However, in some cases this may not be possible. Perhaps you did not learn about the person’s death until much later, or you were in a situation where it was difficult to send a condolence message. It’s never too late to send a condolence message. It’s the thought that counts, and you can always explain why you could not send a note earlier in your message. The recipient will appreciate you taking the time to send a condolence message, even if it arrives a little late.
2. Use formal salutations and include the whole family
A condolence message is a formal letter. This means that you should use a formal salutation such as “Dear”. If you are addressing more than one person, for example, their whole family, then try to include the names of every family member.
When signing off the message use “With sympathy” or “Our deepest sympathies”. If you are very close to the bereaved, you can sign off “With love” or “Lots of love”. If you’re sending the message on behalf of yourself and your family or partner, then include their names in the sign-off as well.
3. Include a personal anecdote
Share a fond memory you have of the person who has died. This may be a story about them that the bereaved hasn’t heard before or that reminds them of their loved one’s good qualities. Including a personal anecdote in the condolence message is an appropriate way to share memories and remember their loved one
4. Avoid the details of their death
We recommend avoiding mentioning the details of their loved one’s death in the condolence message. The days or weeks after someone dies can be very emotional for the bereaved. They may not want to discuss or read about the details of their loved one’s death. It would be highly inappropriate to ask how their loved one died, or to ask for more details in the condolence note.
In sensitive situations, for example, cases of suicide, it is best not to mention the cause of death at all.
5. Keep it short
We recommend keeping a condolence message to no more than 5 to 10 lines. The bereaved will be receiving dozens of condolence messages after their loved one’s death. This is why it’s best to keep your condolence message short. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time. Practice on a sheet of letter paper or on your computer first until you’re happy with the message. Have a look at our example of a condolence message below to get an idea of how it should read.
6. Offer help or support (and follow through!)
A condolence message is a great way to offer support to the bereaved. You can offer to help with things that you know they’ll need in the coming weeks, like babysitting or help with legal paperwork.
As the recipient will be very busy and overwhelmed during this time, let them know in your letter that you will follow up with them again in a couple of weeks. They likely won’t have time to contact you, or they may feel awkward to do so. If you do offer help in your condolence message, try to make sure that you follow through. If you feel like you won’t be able to offer help or support, you don’t need to mention it in your message.
7. Avoid clichés or religious expressions
We’ve all heard the cliché phrases “They’re in a better place now” or “Everything happens for a reason” at funerals and wakes. However, it’s best to stay away from these overused phrases. We don’t really know how the family may be feeling about their loved one’s death, and phrases like these can cause offence.
We also recommend staying away from using religious expressions like “She’s with God now” or “He’s in heaven now”. Unless you’re very sure about the religion of the family you don’t want to assume their religious beliefs or offend their sentiments.
7. Avoid humour and jokes
A condolence message is a formal mode of communication, and as such it is best to steer clear of humorous anecdotes or jokes about the person who has died, their death, or their friends and family. Even if you think that the recipient of the condolence note may find it funny, it is likely that they will not and will be offended or hurt by any jokes. Grief is a strong and complicated emotion, and we highly recommend keeping your condolence message sincere and sombre.
An example condolence message
“Dear Raj and Susan,
I am deeply saddened to hear of your mother’s passing. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time.
Your mother was an inspiration to me, and to so many other people. She was a kind and warm woman and she always made me feel welcome in your home. I will miss her greatly. I remember her teaching us to bake a chocolate cake in your kitchen when we were at school. I still make her recipe with my kids.
I would be happy to help you with any legal paperwork, if you need it. I’ll follow up with you a few weeks from now and we can discuss it then.
Keeping you and your family in my thoughts.
My deepest sympathies,
Traditional Handwritten Note or Social Media Message?
Most etiquette experts recommend sending a handwritten condolence message. A handwritten note is personal, and it shows the recipient that you took the time to write a heartfelt message to them. Handwritten letters are one of the most personal forms of communication.
Tip: If you wish to send a handwritten condolence message, you can typically find the address provided on the funeral announcement.
However, nowadays most of us keep in touch with our friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances on social media platforms like Facebook (Meta), Instagram, WhatsApp or LinkedIn. Most of us tend to post condolence messages directly to the bereaved via their Facebook or Instagram page, especially if they’ve posted about it themselves. This is an easy and accessible way to post a sympathy message to the bereaved without having to wait for postage delivery or needing to go to the post office.
It is absolutely fine to send a condolence message directly via social media or email. It is the thought that counts, and as long as your message is sincere and heartfelt it really doesn’t matter whether you go the traditional or modern route.
Tip: Stick to the same rules listed above whether you opt for a handwritten letter or a message on social media.
If you wish to go the extra mile and send a handwritten condolence message in addition to a message on social media, you are free to do so. You could send a sympathy note after the funeral, or a note to check on your friend a few weeks later. They will appreciate the sentiment and your thoughtfulness.
Writing a condolence or sympathy message doesn’t have to be complicated. It is quite straightforward when you follow the simple guidelines we’ve detailed above.
Above everything else, it is important to be sincere in your condolence message and to speak from the heart. The recipient of your condolence message will appreciate the thought and effort you put into your note whether you send a handwritten note, send an email, or post on their social media.
If you have any questions, the Legacy of Lives team is here to guide and support you every step of the way.
You can contact us via the chat box on our website or email us at: email@example.com