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Every now and then it is necessary to write a sympathy note to a friend, a family member or a business associate.  This can be a daunting task because you want to say the right thing trying to make the recipient feel better.

The first thing that you must decide is to whom you should send your sympathies.  If it is a relative or spouse of a friend or work associate, you would send the note to your friend or associate.  When the deceased is your friend or work associate, you would send your condolences to the deceased’s spouse, significant other or oldest child.  In the workplace you may also participate in a “group” expression of sympathy.  This is good way to go unless you worked closely with the deceased or family member of the deceased.  In this case, a personal condolence would be a better option.

You should try to get your note in the mail as soon as you hear about the death.  If for some reason some time has elapsed, send the note even if it is a month or so after the death.  I always say . . . better late than never!

A sympathy note is a very personal piece of correspondence.   You can use your personalized notes or correspondence cards.  I prefer a more traditional look – white or ivory paper, personalized with your name or monogram, blind embossed or printed in a traditional color.  If you do not have personalized stationery, then chose a simple note card. There is no real formula for a good note.  My rule of thumb is to be SINCERE but BRIEF.  I also suggest that you steer clear of certain phrases:

  • It’s a blessing in disguise
  • He’s/She’s in a better place
  • I know how you feel (unless you have been through a similar situation, you really don’t know how this person feels)
  • Call me if I can do anything for you

Instead say something like this:

  • I am so sorry about your loss
  • Know that I am thinking of you and your family in this difficult time.
  • Can I bring dinner on Friday?  Can I drive carpool for you next week?   Try to be specific.  You want to try to make things easier for the grieving person.

Below is a sample sympathy note that I would send to a friend:
Dear Mary,
     Bill and I are so sad to hear about the loss of your mother.  She was such a delightful lady.  I always enjoyed our lunches together when she came to visit you.  She will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her.
    Please know that you and your family are in our thoughts (and prayers).  Do not hesitate to ask me to help with meals or errands.  

                With deep sympathy,

By now you are probably asking, can I send an email?  If you know that the person uses email, then go ahead and send one.  I would strongly urge you to follow up with a personal note or phone call.  Online memorials are also popular today.  They are a great way to share memories of the deceased with everyone who visits the site.  Again, if you are a close friend of the deceased or his/her family, a personal expression of sympathy should follow any postings on the website.

Another question that I have frequently been asked comes from the family of the deceased.  

What do we need to send personal thank you notes for and who should write them?
Let me begin with the first part of this question.  Personally hand written thank yous should be sent acknowledging memorial gifts (monetary donations to a charity), flowers, Mass cards, acts of kindness (meals, running errands, etc.) and personally written condolence notes.  You do not need to write a personal note for preprinted sympathy cards.  If the deceased was ill before passing away, a note should be sent to those people who helped out and were of significant support to the family during this difficult time.  If you chose to send out preprinted acknowledgment cards, a personal hand written message to those people mentioned above should be included.

Now you ask, who should write all these notes???   If it is a spouse who passes away, the surviving spouse should do the majority of the thank yous.  However, the job can be shared with adult children and siblings of the deceased.  When my mother passed away, I wrote most of the thank you notes to family and close friends.  My father handled the notes to their friends and business associates.  Below is a sample note written on behalf of the family by an adult child of the deceased:

Dear Mary and John,
   The flowers are beautiful and still blooming.  How did you know that Mother always loved day lilies!!!
   On behalf of our family, I want you to know how much we appreciate your thoughtfulness during this very difficult time.  You were some of my Mother’s favorite people.
                    Warm regards,
                        Jennifer Watson* Smith
*I included Jennifer’s maiden name so Mary and John knew who she is.

One more detail . . . as with all thank you notes, they should be timely.  Of course circumstances allow for some delay.  I recommend that every effort should be made to not let more than 6-8 weeks go by before getting these notes in the mail.  As I always say . . . the sooner the better!!!!

More later . . . Ms. Carey

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