Sympathy Card Etiquette

At some point and time in all our lives we will have to write a Sympathy Card. Unlike the other more joyous occasions like congratulating a couple on the new arrival of their baby, the Sympathy Card can be very difficult to compose.

The following tips are meant to be suggestions to help with the composition of a Sympathy Card.

  • Each person grieves the loss of a loved one in a different way. It is never wise to attempt empathy or draw conclusions for the person grieving like “I know just how you feel.” or “Time heals all wounds.” Honestly convey, in a few sentences or less what the loss of this person means to you. Acknowledge the loss of the individual while expressing your condolences (i.e. Please accept my/our sympathy on the loss of your father)
  • This can be a very confusing time for grieving families. Be sure to clearly identify yourself no matter your method of expressing sympathy is (i.e. use your surname if you are not an immediate family member and make sure your return address is available on the envelope).
  • Attempt to send your Sympathy Card as soon as you hear about the death. If you do not have access to a store where you can purchase a card, you could compose a note on personal stationery, or send an electronic sympathy card.
  • In some cases you may have known the deceased but not be too familiar with the family of the deceased. You should send the Sympathy Card to the closest relative of the person who has died (i.e. the widow or eldest child). In the case where you are familiar with the person grieving, but not the deceased themselves, you can address your Sympathy card to your acquaintance.

Having not known the deceased can often cause serious writers’ block. A simple line of condolence is sufficient in this case, rather then trying to imagine what this person meant to the individual(s) grieving (see our What Should I Say tips below).

If you feel comfortable doing so, offer your assistance wherever it might be needed. Some people may not feel comfortable asking, but if they see the offer in writing they will know you are sincere.


Often we get asked ‘What should I say in a sympathy card?’. Following are some simple phrases that may help you (feel free to reword as appropriate these are just meant to get you thinking):

  • I am so sorry.
  • I’m praying for you.
  • I want to help share your burden. Would it be helpful if I were to… (It is important to make a specific offer here because often a person grieving won’t be capable of putting a to-do list together for people)
  • Our Deepest Sympathy,
  • With Deepest Sympathy,
  • Our thoughts and prayers are with you,
  • Loving Father (or Mother)
  • He/She lives with us in memory and will for evermore
  • Beloved wife and mother
  • Beloved husband and father
  • Your love will light our way, your memory will forever be with us
  • You will never be forgotten
  • The memory of you will always be in our hearts
  • Always in our hearts
  • May you be blessed with eternal life and love
  • His/Her greatest joy was making others happy
  • Perhaps it was their time…
  • You will get over this in time…
  • I understand how you feel. (While you could very well share similar situations, each person grieves differently)
  • Call me if you need anything. (Again we go back to the fact that a person or family that are grieving need to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to an offer of help or assistance. It might be too taxing for some to have to think of things for others to do.

When someone you care about experiences a loss it is important to stay in touch with them. Sending a sympathy card is a great and important way of showing your support but that individual or family will need you beyond the services. Here are some suggestions of things you could do if you are inclined:

  • Send flowers to brighten their day. An elaborate bouquet is not necessary, just a little something.
  • Give them a call, you don’t need to avoid that person. They will tell you if it is a good time or not. Make sure you tell them It’s ok if they do not feel like talking right now. Just let them know that you are there to listen whenever they are ready.
  • Offer to cook a meal, help with the housework or babysit if required. The person may need some time to themselves.
  • Invite them to go out with you somewhere but be ready for them to not take you up on that offer right away.

Ultimately it is up to the individual who is grieving and we should not expect that person to be ‘their old selves’ any time soon. Try not to have too many expectations when you offer your help, the important thing is you are helping them by reminding them they have friends, family and outside support.