The Art of the Condolence Note

The New York Times published an article, “The Art of Condolence,” about the importance of handwritten sympathy notes in the digital age. Our Creative Director Leo Mascotte offers some of his insight into how to properly craft a thoughtful sympathy note.

There are few pieces of correspondence one wants to write less than those sent to express sympathy, though notes of condolence are likely to be saved and cherished by the recipient. As an essential tool of communication, they allow the sender and recipient simultaneous access and remove, crucial during difficult and often demanding times.

1) Your starting point should be informed by how well you knew the deceased and how well you know the person to whom you write.  Let the note’s opening express your emotional reaction to the news of your recipient’s loss.  This may take many forms, from the shock of reacting to unexpected events, to a sort of relief-tinged sorrow that may accompany the loss that follows a prolonged illness.

2) It is important to offer a description of your own feelings, as they will often mirror those felt by your reader.  Avoid blanket phrases and resist the urge to detach.  Offering a window into your own feelings will help to validate the flood of emotions confronting the grieving.

3) When addressing someone not well known to you, include a line indicating your connection to the deceased.  A note of this type can be thoughtfully composed with your introduction at its core.

4) Writing to those most dear can prove especially difficult.   Write an anecdote about or memory of the deceased into the heart of your note.   Ideally, your story would be new to your addressee.  The most memorable notes are often the most offhand, narratives that draw energy from the everyday and bestow ease with a voice that is familiar.  Perhaps you might recall a favor bestowed, or laughter shared.  Describe a party at which you were a guest, or retell sport, either shared or observed.   Sensory references are especially enriching.  Commend the dapper, highlight a distinctive gait, savor the pleasures of grill or garden.  Allow your telling to become a description of the way you will remember.

Etiquette requires acknowledgement of the receipt of a condolence note by the recipient.  This may take the form of boxed cards or notes, though bespoke options are also available.  Stationery printed to meet these needs traditionally uses white or ecru stock and black ink paired with classic typestyles.

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