What to Write in a Sympathy Card: Words of Comfort
What to Write
Sympathy cards are the most significant cards given and received, for they honor the life of a loved one and offer comfort to a beloved friend. Those who are grieving find solace in them. The first time the card is opened, it offers thoughtful empathy to soothe the pain of loss. Unlike other cards for other occasions, this is the card that might be read over and over again. When the bereaved are seeking comfort late at night or when no one else is available to offer a compassionate ear, this card will offer consolation.
Grief and loss are not limited to the funeral. The grief process lasts a lifetime. What you write in a sympathy card is important because it can offer comfort whenever the griever needs it, time and time again.
When You Knew the Deceased
First, address the family members who the card is being given to. (If you forget, the names are usually spelled correctly in the obituary, or you can call the funeral home or church to help with spelling.)
- Dear Jenny,
- Dear Joan's children,
Inside the card, use the deceased person's name. You will not hurt the families' feelings by acknowledging what they are already feeling and talking about, and avoiding the obvious makes everyone feel uneasy. You are acknowledging a life now gone, there is no skirting around it. The bereaved know this and need it to be acknowledged and honored.
- Martha will be missed.
- The world will not be the same without Tony.
- Serena could light up any room, and I will miss her vibrant personality.
- Eager was an incredible friend to our family.
Write about a personal memory or a personality trait that made the person special and remarkable. This will help the bereaved connect to their loved one. Memories help. For instance, if you were a good friend to the woman 40 years ago, when you send a letter to her children, you will know something about their mother they may not remember or even know. It may be comforting to read that their mother used to be the life of the party, for example, or that she used to bake excellent chocolate chip cookies.
It is also comforting to know that the loved one will not be forgotten. Assure the bereaved that you will remember. For instance you can say, "I will always remember Mike's ability to help others out. Back in 2010, the winter in Michigan was brutal. It was Mike, your dad, who came out in the middle of the night to help me jump start my car. His goodness will not be forgotten."
When You Did Not Know the Deceased
Sometimes, you will write a card for the death of a person you've never met before. The card is for the bereaved (your friend, a co-worker, or a church or group member perhaps), and sending a card acknowledging what they are going through, even if you did not know the deceased, is a compassionate and supportive thing to do.
Here are a few suggestions:
- "Dena, I want to acknowledge the loss of your brother. I can't imagine what you must be going through now. Know that I am here for you and holding you tight in my thoughts and prayers."
- "Dave, I didn't have the chance to meet your mother, but knowing you she must have been very special for she raised such a wonderful man who is my friend."
- "I am so deeply moved to hear that your father died over the weekend. You are not alone in your loss, for I am here for you as a friend."
For the Loss of a Child
A death of a child does not make sense. Even if the child had an illness and the family was aware that the death would happen, that still does not ease the pain. Even if the child had already grown up, a parent's pain is no less profound.
Here are some suggestions for what to write inside a sympathy card to the parents whose child died:
- Add a memory of the child or state characteristics of the child you will always remember.
- Acknowledge the death. If you cannot acknowledge it then the parents will know you are someone they cannot talk to (because death makes you feel uncomfortable).
- Offer comfort.
- Offer ways to be supportive of the family, especially if they have other children to look after.
- "Brianna was such a joy to be around. Her infectious laughter always brought a smile to my face when I remember her being giddy around her girlfriends."
- "I can never look at a red truck and not think of Noah. He always had his red truck in his hands. I remember when he left his truck at my house one time, and I knew I had to return it that night or he wouldn't go to bed. When I see red trucks I will always smile, thinking of Noah."
- "My son Steven will miss his buddy, Luke. The boys always played so well together. I enjoyed having Luke over at my house, he was always so polite and had interesting things to say. Luke had a significant positive influence on Steven. His memory and personality touched us all deeply, but Steven most of all. I feel that Luke's influences will live on in Steven for the rest of his life."
- "Tara will never be forgotten."
- "I do not have the words to say how sorry I am to hear that A.J. died. A baby dying of SIDS does not make sense. I can't imagine the pain you must be going through. Your baby will never be forgotten. Though she was here a short while, her memory will last a lifetime."
For the Loss of a Mother or Father
Losing a parent is one the most significant, painful things a person can endure. No matter what the age the child is, losing a parent is never easy. Adult children can be significantly affected by the death of their parent. Even as adults, they are still their parent's child. Those grieving the death of a parent may feel a wide range of emotions including sadness, regret, anger, relief, and abandonment. Writing a sympathy card for the loss of a parent can be a powerful gesture of comfort.
Here are some examples of what to write when someone has lost their parent:
- "Your mom was such an amazing, beautiful woman. I always admired your family from afar and that has a lot to do with your mother. Knowing her has made me a better person."
- "Although your father was quiet and kept to himself, his presence on this earth will be significantly missed. He was a quiet saint, always doing kind things for others without wanting recognition. He has inspired me to be a better, more giving person."
- "This town will never be the same without your mother. She was the life, the joy, the humor, and the grace of this community. Her legacy will live on with laughter by the jokes she told me over and over again. Like this joke..."
- "If every daughter had a dad like yours, we would all feel so loved. He was a role model that I hope more fathers could be like. I remember how he treasured and doted on you, his special daughter. His love will always be a part of you."
- "Our parents do not need to be perfect in order for us to miss them. I know this is a complicated time of grieving your mother (father). We often grieve what we did not receive from them as the same time we grieve what we did receive."
When the Death Was a Suicide
Suicides do not make sense. The bereaved are left with a thousand broken shards, and sometimes a huge burden of guilt and blame. Many people might avoid sending or writing anything to a family who is reeling from suicide, but these families also need support and condolences. Taking the time to find a card and write a note can be extremely beneficial to their grief process.
Here are some ideas to help ease the pain (remember to always acknowledge the name of the person who is deceased):
- "I am so, so sorry to hear about Ava's death. I cannot imagine the turmoil and pain you must be going through."
- "John was such an amazing young man. This is an unbearable tragedy, and I am here for you to talk whenever you need to."
- "Today does not make sense, tomorrow probably won't either, but the pain of this tragedy will not always hurt as bad as it does today."
What Not to Write
- I understand how you feel. (Mostly everyone dislikes when someone says this. No one can truly understand how another feels.)
- It was her time. (For the bereaved it never seems like the right time.)
- God needed her. (So do the people still on earth. This statement does not always offer the compassion in the intent it is offered. Especially if it is a parent to a child, the child still very much needs a parent.)
- It is for the best. (The best for who? It is hard when you are in the middle of grief to understand what is for the best at that time.)
- At least she is out of her misery. (There is a time and place to talk about the illness and death but a sympathy card ought to reflect on comfort, not the illness.)
- When my so-and-so died... (This is not about you.)
- He was a real S.O.B. (All relationships are complicated. Sympathy cards are not the time and place to discuss the negative aspects of the deceased to help ease the pain of others.)
- If you need anything, just call. (Although this is generous, most who are grieving will not call if they need something. Instead, anticipate what they need and offer that.)
Money Inside a Sympathy Card
In some cultures, generations, and family traditions, putting money inside a sympathy card is customary. Funeral costs are expensive.
Money inside a sympathy card can significantly help with funeral costs. Especially if the death was sudden. Even if $20.00 is put into each card, the money adds up quickly. Families can use the money to pay off funeral costs or create a scholarships fund in the memory of the deceased. Sometimes families will donate money towards research or a cause that will prevent others dying in a similar way.
During the visitation at the funeral home, there are usually envelopes available for donations. You can do this anonymously or put your name on the envelope. The envelopes are inserted into a lock box that will be given to the family after the visitation.
Please note, the registration book at the funeral home offers a way to support the family in writing thank you notes, so it is important to write your name and address legibly. This supports the family in writing thank-you notes. Family members may not have all the addresses kept safely, or may not know where to look in regards to writing thank you notes after their loved one died.
Average Funeral Costs
Funeral costs vary between funeral homes, geographic areas, and choices regarding funeral procedures. If you're wondering if you should send money, remember the fee for the funeral director’s services and the cost for using the funeral home for the service, the cost for a casket or urn, gravesite or vault, grave liner or burial container, headstone, embalming or cremation, cost to dig the grave, not to mention the cost of the obituary, flowers, hearse, church, graveside services, clergy, death certificate, reception, printed materials, guest book, and viewing visitation times.
It can easily cost $10,000 or more for funeral expenses.
Other Ways to Support a Family in Mourning
- gift card to a restaurant or Starbucks
- a babysitter
- take their dog for a walk or offer a gift card to a kennel to have their animals looked after for a day or two
- a casserole or other comforting food
- gift card to a florist
- a donation to the church
- a donation to a foundation or research
- a tree
- a plaque or a bench with deceased's name on it
- name a star after the deceased
- rake the leaves or mow their lawn
- Thinking of you, wishing you hope in the mist of sorrow, comfort in the midst of pain.
- Wishing you hope and peace during this difficult time.
- Remembering with you, the life of your precious son.
- Holding you close in my thoughts and prayers.
- I am thinking of you and your family at this difficult time.
- Remember that I love and care about you tremendously.
- Words seem inadequate to express the sadness I feel about Serena's death.
- I am here to support you in your grieving process.
- (Name of deceased) brought so many gifts to our life. We will never forget him.
- May your heart and soul find peace and comfort.
- Peace, Prayers and Blessings.
I am deeply moved to hear your husband died. I want to reach out to you and say you are not alone in this time of grief. Just know you are constantly in my thoughts and prayers. If my hug could take some of the pain away, I would hold you tight until you felt a bit better.
Please accept my heartfelt condolences,
Words cannot adequately express my feelings of sorrow on hearing the death of your wife. You and your children are being held in my prayers and heart. I would be happy to watch the children any time when you just need space to grieve for yourself. No one could ever replace Martha, she was a dear friend and an amazing mother. Her mothering and love will not end for she is in each of your children, in their thoughts and especially in their hearts. Her love and wisdom will guide them the rest of their lives. I know this to be true, because I can still hear Martha's laughter and I continued to be touched by her friendship that in some unique way is giving me comfort now.
I will call you in a week to check on you and your family and also coordinate a good time for me to stop by one evening. I would like to bring over a dinner for all of you and maybe take the kids out for ice cream so you can have an hour or so break.
With deepest sympathy,
Your father was such an amazing man and a pleasure to be around. I remember when he took us on vacation that one summer. We had so much fun together, and I was deeply in awe watching how much he loved you and your sisters. You are in my deepest thoughts. Your father will be truly missed. Great men like your dad are rare.
We are here for you day or night whenever you need us. I have enclosed a gift card to Olive Garden. I know Italian food was your dad's favorite. May you enjoy his memory at dinner. I regret living so far away that I can't take you out, but know I am always a phone call away. I will call to check on you in a few weeks when the funeral preparations have subsided.
Your friend always,
Knowing when someone is going to die does not make it any easier when it happens. I know your mother had been struggling with her cancer for months, and I know how very hard this time must be for you now. If I could soothe your pain with words of comfort and love, I would say, your mother is no longer in pain and experiencing the trauma cancer can bring onto someone. She is at rest and at peace. She is perfect in every way in the God's embrace.
I will always remember her as vibrant and full of life. Remember when she wore that bright orange scarf with her green shirt. We all had a good laugh because she loved to wear colors but could never seem to match. Today, in honor of your mother I am wearing bright mismatched colors. I hope to bring laughter to those who see me today, because in reality it is her inspiration that will bring laughter to people who see me today. Your mother's spirit will not die with her body. She will continue to touch and evoke laughter from me for years to come as I will remember her fondly.
Remembering your mother in love, light and much laughter,
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© 2012 CarlySullens