What Is A Condolence and Sympathy Letter?

A condolence letter is a letter expressing sorrow and consolation to someone suffering from a loss. Similar in structure to a eulogy speech, a condolence letter can be written by anyone who wishes to extend support to the family and close associates of a deceased person. 

Despite an expedited vaccine rollout, the United States still tops the global list of deaths due to COVID-19. Figures show that 1 in 670 Americans have died from the virus or complications due to coronavirus. Further statistics show that the US makes up 20% of the world’s total number of COVID-related deaths. Brazil trails closely behind in second place, nearly approaching half a million deaths. Different states around the country continue to experience a resurgence of cases, clustered lockdowns, the threat of an overburdened healthcare system, and serious challenges with regard to the the different variants and virus strains.

Tips for Writing A Letter of Condolence 

There are a few reminders to keep in mind when writing a sincere letter of condolence. As much as possible, avoid any unnecessary paragraphs and maintain a structured flow of thoughts. Follow these tips in creating a touching and meaningful condolence letter: 

Speak from Heart: It might sound obvious but all too often we get caught up in our stifling rules and words that our message gets lost in the paragraphs. A letter that’s simple but captures the heart and imagination is better than a flowery letter with little or no substance. A reader can usually and instinctively tell if a message is authentic and heartfelt. Be Honest: If you don’t know where to begin, or if you don’t know the late person particularly well yet still feel deeply for the loss, a place of honesty is a good way to start. A condolence letter is the best outlet to practice empathy and compassion. Try to picture what your friend might be feeling at the moment, then use that to fuel your writing. Recall Memories: Share fond memories and experiences you shared with the deceased, if applicable. Family members and friends will appreciate your remembrance and will feel validated that their loved one has touched and impacted others’ lives. A personal story might carry more emotional weight and resonate better with the reader. Avoid making the story about yourself and resist the temptation to stray from the main point- which is to console the mourning. Emphasize Character: In addition to recalling fond memories, share your personal experiences in relation to the person’s values and character traits. The purpose is not to paint a perfect picture of the deceased; but to console the grieving family by reminding them of the positive aspects of the person they just lost. It is no guarantee it will ease their pain. But it might make them feel better temporarily, at best. Keep it Brief: Express your sympathy and condolences clearly and briefly. Don’t allow yourself to ramble. Don’t waste the reader’s time by not going directly to the point. In the first few lines of the letter, acknowledge right away the death and express your sorrow and sadness for the situation. A single page condolence letter will do. Show Support: Reassurance is crucial. Offer any kind of assistance if you are in the position to do so. In some cases where a death is untimely or sudden, the family has had no time to prepare and are overwhelmed by the burden. Consider these circumstances and strive to show generosity and openness. Support can come in different forms. Physical and financial assistance are not the only types of help. Emotional and spiritual support are equally important. Handwrite the Letter: This, of course, is optional. Handwritten notes and letters are slowly becoming extinct in today’s digital age. It is precisely due to this, is all the more reason to write by hand. The extra time and effort suggests you care deeply about the person. If you are unable to sit down and express your sentiments by hand, a well-thought of email or typed card would suffice. However, avoid generic text messages that are rushed or bland. Thoughts and prayers should carry meaning and not be used merely as a default response.

How To Write A Condolence Letter

Penning a bereavement letter is not limited to the loss of a life. Some may choose to show support and extend sympathy to someone for an economic or financial loss, or any challenging time wherein a person has experienced profound loss. Keep these steps in mind when writing your sympathy letter: 

Step 1: Personally Address the Recipient 

Whether it is directed to a person lamenting the overnight loss of his entire business empire; or a person mourning the death of parent or spouse, make sure to address a specific name in your letter. ‘To whom it may concern’ is not only appropriate, but can sound callous. Your condolence letter may not necessarily follow a strict format but should retain elements of a formal letter. Since it is a personal letter, you may start by addressing the person using ‘Dear’. 

Step 2: Acknowledge the Loss

Begin your letter by first stating and acknowledging the loss. As a brief introduction, state how you are saddened and affected by the passing and offer your sincerest condolences. The reader should already know what the letter is about only by reading the first few sentences. If you want to expound a little, state your relationship with the late person and narrate how you learned about the death. It’s important to note that your introduction should be anchored on the fact that you are recognizing that the reader is experiencing deep pain and grief.    

Step 3: Remember the Person

Close family and associates of the deceased person are normally expected to share wonderful memories; but even acquaintances and those who may not have known the person well, can share personal memories too- no matter how miniscule or mundane the memory may be. Another way of remembrance is by enumerating the noteworthy qualities he or she had when they were still alive. You don’t have to create a long list of exceptional traits but pick out the ones that stood out for you the most, or was greatly affected by. Reflecting on the person’s life may take some deep thinking but if it matters to the person reading it, then that should be enough reason for doing it.  Honoring the late person’s character and life makes your letter more thoughtful.   

Step 4: Offer Support

Support can be offered in a number of ways. Some people provide burial assistance, give financial aid to entertain guests at a wake or vigil, donate food or flowers, or any in-kind support. The power of the sympathy card or letter is sometimes underestimated. In some cases, words speak deeper (not necessarily louder) than action. It is easy to give a check to the bereaved family and think it might excuse you from paying your respects personally. A condolence letter, whether handwritten or not, suggests you took the time and effort to personally remember the deceased person’s life and legacy.

To conclude your condolence letter, do not forget to reassure the person of your support. “I am always here for you if you need anything”, “I’m only a phone call away”, or “Please reach out to me if you need anything” are simple but uplifting lines. A more formal way to end could be “Please accept my condolences”. These examples may use different words but all essentially offer a sense of support and a willingness to help. 

Limitations Of A Condolence Letter

Not all people appreciate a letter as a meaningful show of support. Others would still very much need the conventional flowers, mass cards and food to sustain their vigils and funerals. This is especially true if the family constantly worries about expenses. A letter, no matter how heartfelt, cannot guarantee consolation. It may not even hold any true significance in the greater scheme of things. Some people may argue that, at the end of the day, measurable and tangible assistance is more practical and useful. In cases such as these, the condolence letter may fall short of its purpose.

When it comes to loss of property or a failed business venture, a letter may not be the typical way to share in someone’s grief . Others still would prefer real time presence, sound advice or a listening ear. For some, letter writing may be an outdated approach; which begs the question as to the significant and effectivity of a well-meaning letter.

FAQs

What is the best condolence message?

The best condolence message is one that is sincere and heartfelt. It often narrates a thoughtful story, detailing warm and tender memories. A good condolence message is not only respectful and courteous, but also pensive and intentional. It should not be too long, but straightforward and honest. Make sure your message expresses just the right amount of candor and encouragement to support the bereaved in their grief.

How do you write a simple condolence?

An example of a simple condolence letter would be: Our family only recently learned of Jack’s untimely passing. Please accept our heartfelt condolences. Jack was always the happy helper. When my husband and I were new to the neighborhood, he was the first one to welcome us and he immediately made us feel right at home. His radiant smile, generous spirit, and cheerful optimism will always be remembered and will continue to stay with us for a long time. We share in your family’s grief and we will all miss him terribly. Please let me know how we can be of any assistance. Please do not hesitate to call me if you need a friend to talk to.

How do you write a condolence letter for someone you didn’t know?

No matter how superficial or surface level your relationship with the deceased was, it is best to be honest; even if you only knew the person in a professional capacity. He could have been an employee you only got to interact with once at an official business meeting; or the only connection you both shared was your religious ties to a local church organization. You are not required to share personal feelings or experiences about them. However, it is important to still show respect and generosity. You can express your sympathy in a general way but make sure to express your support and reassurance to the bereaved.

How do you sign a condolence letter?

End your condolence letter with generally acceptable closing words like sincerely, cordially,  respectfully yours, truly, etc. You can even go the extra mile and include a personal prayer, a short devotion or intercession at the bottom of your letter. Another acceptable way to close a sympathy letter is to reassure the recipient they will always be in your thoughts and prayers.

How do you start a condolence message?

Begin your letter by immediately expressing sorrow and concern for the death of the loved one, loss of livelihood or business, etc. Explain briefly how you came to know about it. If you knew the deceased particularly well, you can expound on your relationship you had with the late person. A condolence letter is usually addressed to a bereaved family member or a grieving best friend. Your introduction can contain a short description of how you came to know the person who died, then followed by a touching memory of them.

What do sympathy cards say?

Most store bought sympathy cards contain generic lines such as ‘deepest sympathies’ or ‘I am sorry for your loss’. Most of them are superficial and do not afford the space to go deeper nor allow you to be more personal and creative. If you want to create your own personalized card, browse any of the editable templates above and feel free to customize it any way you want.

Loss is a difficult experience for anyone. People still make the mistake of assuming the grieving process is the same for everyone. The truth is, it is all relative. A person may take three years to recover from a tragic loss, or thirteen years. While some, unfortunately, never fully recover because their life changed forever after suffering the loss. People suffering from loss, whether personal or professional, need all the support they can get. A letter may not seem like much; but the subtle support it provides is better than showing no support at all. Words have power. They can uplift a grieving spirit, even if it is just for a minute or two. Choose from the many downloadable samples above to get started on your heartfelt condolence letter.