Stumped About What to Write in a Sympathy Card? Read This.

brown and flowery card

Deciding what to write in a sympathy card can be a stressful task for anyone, and the number of ways to express your feelings can make it more complicated. Our list of suggested phrases and messages can help get you started and guide you through the whole process as you show your support to those in mourning.

Deciding what to write in a sympathy card can be challenging, particularly if you didn't know the deceased person while they were alive, or your relations are somewhat strained with the family. If you aren't sure what to write, our list of suggestions and tips of things to avoid can help you navigate your way to a thoughtful and personalized sympathy message with minimal stress.

As with any written correspondence, there are pitfalls you'll want to avoid and tricks you can use to enhance how your message is received. With sympathy messages, in particular, you'll want to offer more than the standard canned response, and there are a few simple ways to accomplish a tailored message that also feels genuine.

Sympathy Card Etiquette

Sympathy cards are meant to sound natural and should be intended to be soothing for the recipient. If you aren’t sure what to write in a sympathy card, it's always a good idea to take a piece of paper and write down some thoughts before you begin crafting a message.

Sympathy cards are a standard gesture when someone you know suffers a loss, and it is also common to send gifts to those who are in mourning. If you intend to send a gift, you can choose whether or not to include your sympathy card with the present, or send it separately. If you decide to ship it separately, consider adding a short note with the gift as well. 

Writing a sympathy card can often be an emotional event, and it's essential to gather your thoughts before writing your message. Think of ways that the deceased impacted your life, or other positive details to include but avoid making the card all about yourself.

You’ll also want to avoid certain sayings such as “I know how you feel…” or “Everything happens for a reason…” as these can seem harsh and insensitive. It's also best to avoid words that are too blunt or otherwise harsh such as “died” or “death.” Those who are in mourning will appreciate messages that are free from judgmental statements or criticism.

When it comes time to sign your sympathy card, use a short phrase that isn’t overly casual or too formal. Examples include:

  • "Our/My deepest sympathies."
  • "Our/My thoughts are with you."
  • “With Sympathy”
  • "With warm condolences."

Casual language that might be appropriate in an email such as "Best" or "Regards" is not an ideal option as this can seem insensitive in a sympathy card. Its also considered inappropriate to send sympathies via email or text. Whenever possible, do not to rely on a florist to deliver your heartfelt message as some of it may get left out or misquoted.

If you plan to send a sympathy card, it's best to do it as soon as possible, and handwritten messages or cards you print are your best options. The quality of the card doesn't matter as much as the handcrafted message that you write within it, and even if your handwriting isn't perfect your efforts will be appreciated.

Sympathy extended to another is the expression of the human heart demontrating that love is true and wholesome. -Byron R. Pulsifer 

It's also important to note that not all sympathy cards need to be lengthy and have lots of written words in them. There are ways to craft messages that convey your feelings but are still short and concise. Examples include “Please know we are thinking of you during this time” and “Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.”

Short sentiments can be perfect for sending funeral flowers, and an excellent way to let survivors know you are thinking of them. If you also want to offer your assistance or convey any further details beyond a short statement, then sending a sympathy card is the next step.

What to Include

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What to write in a sympathy card can be summed up in a few simple lines, but finding the best words to convey your feelings can take a bit more work. Your message should be addressed to the appropriate person or family, but avoid listing several individuals by name.

After you've addressed your message, choose an opening that suits what you want to say, and avoids harsh language. This sentence should express your feelings regarding their loss sincerely and should segway smoothly into the second sentence.

This sentence can go into more detail about how the deceased positively impacted your life, or other positive memories you have of them. The third and fourth sentence can be where you choose how you want to offer your support and to let the survivors know that you are thinking of them and their families.

It's best to keep your message to fewer than ten sentences or a couple of paragraphs as more text may ultimately overwhelm the recipient. If you feel you have more that you would like to share with the survivors you are close to, then a sympathy letter may be more appropriate than a card.

Example Messages

It can be challenging to decide what to write in a sympathy card, but some excellent choices are both heartfelt and personal. Messages should be concise and tailored for a specific audience but plan to customize some examples for your uses.

Using the examples that are listed below, create a message that fits the person you are writing to, and feel free to change some of the wording and to add more detail about the deceased as is appropriate.

For Family Members

When writing to a survivor who has lost a close family member, some phrases can be used and personalized for the situation. Always specify the person by name or their title, and include only positive details and thoughts. Here are some examples of the wording that can be used:

  • “We are deeply sorry about the loss of (insert name or title). As you grieve, know that we are remembering and honoring him/her/them.”
  • “So sorry for your loss. I celebrate the life of (insert name) and am mourning him/her with you during this trying time.”
  • “Words can’t express the loss of (insert name). Know that I’m here for you and your family during this difficult time. Please let me know if you need anything.”
  • “I can’t imagine how your heart must be aching. We want you to know that we are here for you if you ever need anything. We’ll plan to check in again soon.”
  • “I can’t express how much (insert name) meant to me over the years. My condolences to you and your amazing family during this difficult time.”
  • The wonderful qualities of your mother/father are being carried on beautifully by you. She/He will always be remembered.
  • “Your father/mother was one of the most generous men/women I have ever met. He/She was always lending a hand to others and reaching out when they were in need.”
  • "I could always count on your father/mother to lighten the mood with a good joke and a kind smile. There will never be another man/woman quite like him/her, and his/her memory will live on forever."

For Coworkers

  • “I was so sorry to hear about your friend’s passing. I hope that you know that I am here for you whenever you need.”
  • “(Name of friend/coworker) will be in our hearts, minds, and memories forever.”“The comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but not that of having had one.” – Seneca
  • “Our hearts are saddened to learn of your loss, please know we are with you.” “May you find comfort in knowing you are not alone; you are surrounded by those who care for you.”

General Messages

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Image via Pixabay

Once you have found some sentences that you can personalize for your use, it's a good idea to consider adding a more personal touch in the form of further details or a short story of how the deceased impacted your life. You can also include a photograph or other small piece of memorabilia that you think may bring comfort to the survivors.

Inspirational quotes are also a welcome touch to a sympathy card if there was one that the deceased particularly enjoyed. If a religious quote is appropriate for the survivor that may also be helpful to include in the card as well.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. Written on a Headstone in Ireland 

To find appropriate quotes, an online search can be the most efficient method. There are several religious and non-religious quotes online that can make an excellent addition to your sympathy card and help show that you have put real thought into your message and are thinking about the survivors.

Keep in mind that your sympathy card message doesn’t have to be perfect and stressing out about it for an extended period isn’t necessary. Sending a sympathy card with even a few words is a valuable sign of support to the survivors, and sending the card itself may end up meaning more than you might think.

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