Writing Letters of Condolence


It is difficult for most people to write sympathy notes, but they are necessary, especially when you cannot attend the funeral. You need to write condolence letters as soon as you hear of the loss. If you hear of the news weeks or months later, write anyway and explain that you have just learned of the loved one’s death.

A condolence note can be short, just two or three sentences, and perhaps some memories of the deceased. Call the deceased person by name, if possible. For example, writing your brother John is much more personal than writing only your brother.

The word condolence comes from the Latin words com dolere meaning to grieve together. When you send a letter of condolence you are sharing in someone's loss, but what do you write? Writing appropriate expressions of sympathy can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be if you let your heart be your guide.

You might think of the words that you would say if you were face-to-face with the mourner. These would be the same words you want to convey in writing. Please avoid overused expressions of sympathy
. Instead, imagine being in that person’s place. What would you want someone to write to you? What words are comforting? What words recognize the griever’s pain?

I have mixed feelings about the word loss because I didn't "lose" my mother. She died. You will not find a sympathy card with the word death on it, but this is exactly what has happened: your friend's loved one is dead. The word loss is a gentler way of phrasing the circumstances and so I choose it sometimes. I have included the word loss in some of the examples below
. Use your own judgement and write what you feel with honesty and compassion.

Send only a card if you truly don’t know what to write in a letter, but select cards with words of comfort. Saccharine sentiments appear insincere or shallow. Your signature alone is not sufficient. Think of one or two sentences that express your love and support and write them on the card.

Sometimes, just getting the first sentence on paper is enough to let the caring thoughts flow. Here are some examples of first sentences to get you started on your letter of condolence, but your own words always work best:

My thoughts and prayers are with you during this sad time.

I am so sorry to hear about the death of __________.

I regret that I live so far away from you, especially during this sad time. I wish I could talk to you about the death of __________ and give you a hug to comfort you.

I will be calling you before the end of the week. (Please follow through on this promise.)

I have wonderful memories of __________. (Then share one or two.) I will miss her, too.

I am thinking of as you grieve the loss of __________.

Even though I cannot be with you during this sad time, please know that I care about you and I am thinking of you.

I have only just heard about __________’s death. I am so sorry. I wish I could have been with you at the funeral.

Words fail to express what I want to say to you. I am so sorry.

I am so sorry. I loved __________, too.

Nothing I write will ease your sorrow but I do care about you and think of you often. I will keep you and your family in my prayers as you mourn the loss of __________.


To find a wide variety of grief poetry and prose, please visit:

Refer to Love in Action for a few more suggestions. I hope the ideas serve as catalysts and inspire you to express your friendship and caring as only you can. 

A Few Words About Pet Loss:

People can deeply grieve the deaths of beloved companion animals, yet this type of emotional pain is often minimized or overlooked by others. If you know someone who is grieving the death of a pet, your simple note of caring will surely be appreciated. There is a good selection of pet sympathy cards available now in grocery stores, pharmacies and card shops; or, you might consider sending a pet sympathy e-card to your grieving friend. With both traditional and electronic cards, try to add one or two sentences from your heart for a personal touch. What would you want someone to write to you if the situation were reversed?

It is wise to refrain from suggesting another pet right away because your friend needs time to grieve the death of a beloved companion. Like grief itself, the decision to open the heart to a new animal, or not, is unique. 

Regardless of how you choose to express pet sympathy, your own words of comfort do not have to be profound. As I have written in other places on this web site, your loving thoughts and the time you took to show you care are most important.

For more supportive ideas, please read Helping Another with Pet Loss by author and grief counselor Marty Tousley.

Go to next page: Start Today

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How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
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