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How to write a meaningful sympathy message

Julia Faulks / 07 September 2015

When someone you know goes through a bereavement it can be really hard to know what to say. Here we look at the dos and don’ts when it comes to offering your condolences.

Paper and pen for writing a letter
Think about fond memories and personal stories you can include in your sympathy message - these can be really special for the bereaved

When someone you know goes through a bereavement it can be really hard to know what to say. Here we look at the dos and don’ts when it comes to offering your condolences.

Traditionally people will send a sympathy message via a letter, card or flowers, although these days more of us are using social media and emails to express our sympathy.

There is no right or wrong way to do it, but it’s worth bearing in mind that online messages aren’t as ‘permanent’ as a hand-written message and can feel informal. There’s also a lot to be said for putting in the effort into writing something that can be held on to forever as a sentimental keepsake.

How to offer your condolences

It’s up to you to gauge what you feel the person will appreciate, or perhaps expect from you, especially if they are a close friend or family member. “Soon after my father died I received lots of lovely cards and letters. I remembered reading them at the time, but at that point things felt too raw to take in the words. I find them even more comforting years later, especially now that people don’t talk about him as much and I can re-read them and remember the lovely things people said, or even just as an excuse to have a good old cry,” says Pamela, 54 years-old.

Dos and don’ts for writing a sympathy message

Do... keep your promises

It’s all too easy to say you will make time to visit or call soon, but make sure you follow-through with any offers of support or help.

Do... include photographs

If you aren’t that good at expressing yourself in writing then you could enclose a photograph that will mean something to that person.

Do... think of a happy memory and write it down

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words, so one way to do it is to think of a happy time you shared with that person.

“It could be that the person has no idea about a memory you have and sharing that could be really special. It’s about keeping that person alive and continuing that bond for them,” says Jo Ruff, Head of Family Support at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall.

“Often we find that even if it’s an expected death that they will learn things that they had no idea about and sometimes those memories are lost forever but this can be held onto and kept,” she adds.

Don’t... write it in a rush

Especially not on your way to the post box with a message that has been scribbled across your lap.

Don't... spell the name wrong

The person receiving your note will naturally be more offended than usual if you spell their loved one’s name wrong. It's always worth double-checking, especially if it is an unusual name or a person you were not very familiar with.

Don't... say ‘At least they had a good life’

They may well be an old age when they die, but this doesn’t necessarily make grief any easier for those left behind.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.