The Keys to Writing a Meaningful Condolence Message
If you’re at a loss for words when composing condolence letters, you’re not alone. Many people have a difficult time putting their heartfelt sympathies into words.
Whether you’re posting to a funeral home’s online sympathy board or sending your condolences by mail, knowing what to say and how to say it can be a real challenge. If you’re stuck between wanting to be original and not wanting to say the wrong thing, the tips below can help.
Accept that it’s likely awkward for both of you.
Your mourning friend of family member likely feels just as uneasy as you do. This situation is new for him or her, too. Opening with “I don’t know what to say” or “I’m at a loss for words” is perfectly fine and may put you both at ease. The act of reaching out is what’s important. Don’t let a little awkwardness keep you from showing your support in their time of sorrow.
Keep the focus on the bereaved.
It can be tempting to want to connect with the bereaved by mentioning a similar loss that you experienced. Avoid writing “I know how you feel.” Even though your heart is in the right place, grief is a unique experience. You can never know exactly how they feel. Try instead to say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Remember the deceased.
Stories about our loved ones become even more significant once that person is no longer with us. If you have any loving memories of the deceased, share one or two of them in your condolence letter or sympathy card. You might also recall a special quality that you remember about them. If you didn’t know the person well, you can always write, “While I never got to know [name] as well as I would have liked, I can tell that she meant the world to you. I will always cherish the stories that you told me about her travels.” Doing so lets the grieving person know that their loved one’s life was unique, special, and significant.
Keep it positive.
Brief can be better when it comes to sympathy letters. Relationships aren’t always simple and straight-forward. You may have had conflicted past with the bereaved or the deceased. If any part of what you plan to write gives you pause, don’t include it. The sympathy card is not always the best place to air out all of your feelings. Keeping your message simple will help you to avoid any missteps that you might be worried about taking.
Grant the grieving permission to feel.
Some try to hold in their hurt, anger, and sadness. If your loved one needs a little encouragement to let go, give it to them. Writing “It’s okay to cry” sends them the thoughtful message that they don’t have to put on a brave face around you. This can be a truly wonderful gift.
Offer specific help, then follow through.
Asking for and accepting help is hard for most people. You may feel like you want to help but aren’t sure how. “Let me know if you need anything,” is likely to end in the bereaved never reaching out. If you really want to help, be specific. Try offering something specific along with a date, such as, “You had mentioned that you aren’t sure how to write an obituary notice. I can come by on Wednesday to help you out.”
Include a handwritten note.
Sympathy cards do most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to conveying a thoughtful message. If you are sending a card, personalize it with a note. You can keep it brief. Some examples include: “Please accept my heartfelt condolences,” “My heart and prayers are with you during this difficult time,” or “Wishing you peace.”
Aim for connection rather than perfection.
When you pressure yourself to get the messaging ‘just right’ you risk putting off writing or sending your condolence letter altogether. Rather than focusing on the “what,” try instead to focus on the “why.” Ask questions if you aren’t sure what to say. “How are you doing?” is a great opener that lets your friend or family member know that they can share their thoughts and feelings with you.
The act of acknowledging the loss is equally if not more important than what you say or exactly how you say it. Although funeral etiquette recommends sending condolences within two weeks, it is never too late to reach out. Your hurting friend or loved one will be grateful for periodic cards send throughout the first year and on anniversaries.
We hope these guidelines are helpful to you. If you need additional pointers on how to express your condolences, write an obituary, or compose a memorial speech, please reach out to us anytime.
About Batchelor Brothers Funeral Services: As a leading African American-owned and operated funeral and cremation organization serving three states, Batchelor Brothers Funeral Services has provided a ministry of care to thousands of grieving families. We promise to provide our highest level of distinguished service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. In all aspects of the funeral process, we strive to be the absolute best and are honored to help preserve our clients’ legacies for future generations. With three convenient locations serving both North and West Philadelphia, as well as Trenton and Drexel Hill, it is always our pleasure to be of service. Please visit our website for more information.