What To Say On A Sympathy Card

by frugalrvers

Knowing what to say on a sympathy card can be challenging. After suddenly losing my mom, I received many condolence messages. Here are expressions of sympathy that meant the most.

To truly help someone who is grieving, expressions of sympathy need to be thoughtful and come from the heart. It isn't at all about how fancy the card is, because often the quotes go unread. But handwritten messages and actions that show you care? That is different...

Deciding what to say on sympathy cards is only part of the support those coping with loss are in need of. This is my personal journey through the recent loss of my mother, and what words and support helped me through.

Words To Write In A Sympathy Card - Some Tips Before You Start

Make Sure Your Condolence Message Is Truly Heard

Before deciding on words to write in a sympathy card, take a moment to think about the person you are writing this bereavement message for. Perhaps this is for someone you barely know, or maybe it is for your best friend. No matter your relationship or familiarity with the departed or the person grieving, the thought you put into your sympathy expression should be the same. For those suffering loss, even for a coworker's grandmother who might have lived to be 100 years old, the pain of missing that person runs very deep.

Four months ago, my mother who had only just begun retirement was alive and well. Then in a moment, she was gone. Nothing has ever hurt so much as this loss. I can tell you sincerely that sympathy cards were the least of my concerns.

Personal Photo Of My Mom And Me

The literally hundreds of cards kept rolling in. Some were beautiful and extravagant - but honestly, most were opened but went unread. This is not like opening cards at your wedding. It is a devastating time and though Hallmark might do a good job of designing pretty cards and eloquent words, the odds are those deep in grief will truly not notice.

What was noticed, however, is when there was a heartfelt message written on the inside. Not common expressions such as "you're in my thoughts" but messages that spoke to me like a human being. The majority of the cards received revealed to me that those sending them were just as uncomfortable with acknowledging the death of my mom as I was trying to live through my grief.

If You Want To Offer Sympathy Quotes, Give Something That Lasts - Because Cards Are Stored Away

A Poster Or Framing A Special Quote As A Gift Is Much More Meaningful And Can Inspire Every Day

What Words For Sympathy Cards Should DO

What To Say In A Card When Someone Dies

As previously mentioned, to those who are grieving, finding the most beautiful sympathy card with the perfect quote isn't what is important. Taking time to write a message inside of the sympathy cards, even if they cost one dollar, is the key to truly helping a grieving person.

Depending on your relationship with the individual receiving the card, here are some supportive condolence messages and ideas that will help:

Write A Condolence Letter, Then Place It Inside Of The Card - One thing I know I will never do is sit down and look through hundreds of bereavement cards again. What is best is to just send a simple card and place an actual letter inside so that the grieving person can remove it and hold onto it - instead of sending a card that ends up stored away in a box.

Share Personal Stories Of The Deceased Person - Grief in our society is very lonely. There is an unhealthy misconception that it is taboo to mention the dead. This leaves those grieving with feeling forced to just erase discussion of their loved one from their lives. I loved those who told me stories of how my mom touched them, reminisced about elementary school days and shared funny tales.

Acknowledge The Person's Fears And Say Something About It - One of the most touching sympathy expressions I was given was from my mom's friend. She knew I was close to my mom and, being an only child, I was devastated at not having a mom in this physical world. She told me directly that she is always available to be a surrogate mom to me, no matter how old I am.

Don't Just Offer Help, Insist On It - Unless you truly don't know the grieving person well, actions are a huge help during this process. One wonderful idea is to take time to research free grief groups in their town, then include that list inside of the card. Another idea, if you live close by, is to commit to bringing dinner by Tuesday nights, cleaning house, babysitting or anything else you can think of that the person needs, and place that message in the sympathy card.

I won't be hypocritical here - throughout my life I've sent sympathy cards and I was guilty of searching for beautiful cards with trendy inspirational messages...the "perfect card." But I now see that might be a great idea for birthdays and weddings, but it matters not at all to those who are grieving. Content in your own words is what is needed during this difficult time.

Words For Sympathy Card - What NOT TO DO

What To Write In Sympathy Cards Is Often Knowing What Not To Say

There are certain things, after being flooded with so many sympathy cards, that I would recommend you do not do. Let me first say, however, that those in grief are not assessing or judging your cards - that is the least of their concerns. But I did notice so many things from my personal experience, I know the next bereavement card I send to someone will be different than those I sent in the past. So here are things you should NOT say or do, in my opinion:

"I Know How You Feel" And Talking About Yourself - Though after the shock, it can be comforting to talk with others about their loss, that is for the bereaved to seek on his or her own. A sympathy card should not be about you or a comparison to your own experiences, such as "I feel your pain."

Leave Out Your Religion Unless You Know The Person's Beliefs Intimately - If the person is grieving and you are 100% certain of his or her beliefs, by all means offer spiritual support and reminders to help the individual cope. But if you do not know, avoid these statements that were in the majority of cards I received: "It's in God's Plan," She is in a better place," "You're in my prayers," "The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways." You may find comfort in your own spiritual beliefs, but never assume you know those of the one who is grieving - unless you do, then absolutely include them because spirituality does help with grief, when confident in one's beliefs.

Avoid The Cookie Cutter Phrases - I think we've all been there and done that, but from my receiving sympathy cards I never recognized how at a loss for words we all are when consoling someone else. Please avoid: "So sorry for your loss," "My thoughts are with you."

Telling People "I'm Here For You" When You Aren't - So many people told me they were here for me, but to be honest, they are so uncomfortable with my grief that many completely disappeared. As I stated in the what TO DO segment, take action - don't just use words. I would never call someone or lean on them unless I was very close to them. The words, to be truthful, are dismissed as the card is put away.

In sum, I've learned a lot about how to express sympathy for others in the future by receiving sympathy cards during my own grieving. Don't feel that the recipient is in a state of mind to have ill feelings toward these "dont's" listed above. However, if you truly care about this person's grief and want to express it in a meaningful way, fill your sympathy card with words and expressions mentioned in my "to do" list.

How To Help A Grieving Friend, Family Member Or Acquaintance

Other Meaningful Ideas Of How To Help Loved Ones Cope With A Loss

Aside from giving sympathy cards and offering your time to help with meals, run errands or just being available to talk, there are gifts you can give to help them relax, find emotional support and much more. Journals, scrapbooks, reading materials and a little pampering can go a long way.

Most importantly, TALK TO THE PERSON GRIEVING. Those who are coping with loss don't want distraction, like going to see a movie or pretending everything is fine. Everything is far from fine. In fact, when I first lost my mom, just going to stores she and I had just visited caused enormous pain. I saw the chair she sat on at Ross, I remembered running to get her chocolate ice cream at Culvers, I even cried driving by restaurants we visited months prior.

Those grieving don't need you to distract them - they need you to sit with them, even if it makes you uncomfortable, and to talk with them like a human being. Don't dodge the topic, don't try to be a cheerleader - just be a support. Chances are, the person will want to avoid making you uncomfortable, so it is up to you to initiate the topic. Tell the grieving person it is ok to speak openly about the loved one they miss, and that you aren't going anywhere - no matter what.

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Updated: 04/25/2018, frugalrvers
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frugalrvers on 03/06/2015

Thank you for your kind words, Paul..........

Paul_Takeo on 03/05/2015

Your story was spot on. I wish I had seen this earlier. I had a co-worker who lost her newborn baby to SIDS and I had no idea what to say to her. A written letter put inside a sympathy card is a very good idea.

frugalrvers on 06/21/2012

I love your point, 2uesday...sometimes we are so deep into an issue, we cannot see the bigger picture. Sending a card as an immediate gesture, then offering more support in the future (or just letting those grieving talk openly) is a perfect suggestion. For me, the important part was "don't disappear" - I know friends and family struggled with how to help me emotionally...but some, unfortunately, never talked about it again...not knowing what to say. Though I function and am "ok" i will never be over it, and would welcome talking about my mom any day, anytime. Thanks for your post...so helpful and great advice! Robin

frugalrvers on 06/21/2012

Thank you for such a nice comment. It is hard to know what to say - I only learned the hard way through losing my mom, so I know what not to do in the future. I absolutely did many of the "donts" listed here. I think the key is, though it is awkward, to try not to be mechanical. What a grieving daughter like me needed was a shoulder, a hug, a touch, freedom to say whatever I needed to to let it all out. I looked for any open door I could find, but most condolences were so mechanical I knew those doors were closed. Hope that makes sense! Thanks again...

Pinkchic18 on 06/21/2012

Very nice post here, and it helps that you are speaking from experience. I've attended many funerals lately, and I feel like no matter what I say, it's nothing next to what they are going through. I will take your suggestions and learn for next time.

frugalrvers on 05/20/2012

Thank you for such a nice comment. I was hoping it would help...In the past, I was guilty of many of the "donts" because I just didn't know what to do or say....fumbling for words, quotes, expressions. Only going through it myself did I learn what those grieving truly need. By the way, I am so sorry to hear you lost a friend. Including a message to the family was a wonderful thing to do - but be sure to take care of yourself and acknowledge your grief, too. Thanks again for such a nice comment.

dustytoes on 05/20/2012

I so agree with you about the "doing" part. Instead of empty words, kind actions mean so much more. I recently lost a long time friend who lived far away and I didn't know her family, but I did include a message to them. After reading this, I am glad I did. This page is excellent because it is written by someone who has been there and I thank you for your honesty.

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