A meaningful condolence note can be one of the most difficult things to write. It’s not easy to know what to say to someone during such a sensitive time. The best condolence notes are warm, personable, and consider the needs of the recipient.
Shorter can be sweeter
Don’t feel obligated to fill up the card. Your recipient will be inundated with messages offering sympathy for their loved one’s passing. Unless you have something very specific you’d like to communicate, a concise message is often the most considerate. In many cases, the gesture is more meaningful than the content itself.
Consider your relationship to the recipient and the deceased
Your relationship to both the recipient and the deceased will dictate how formal or informal the tone of your letter should be. Approach your writing with the level of formality that you would use if you were speaking face to face. When in doubt, the more formal, the better.
Make a personal connection
The most touching notes are those that include a specific memory of the deceased or a mention of what the deceased meant to you, the sender. Examples include:
- I remember the time your dad picked us up from the airport after our trip. He was so interested in all the places we had visited.
- Your mom was such a great person – as the most senior female partner at the firm, I looked up to her as a role model.
- I loved the way your sister enjoyed concerts – she made me fall in love with each band we saw.
Making arrangements after a loved one’s passing can be incredibly overwhelming. Consider if there is any way you can offer support to your recipient. You can offer a favor (e.g. mowing the lawn, buying groceries, watching over children) or even just emotional support. Be thoughtful about the ways you can be generous during this time.
Keep an eye on cliches
Your recipient is going to be hearing many of the same phrases repeated in the coming months (e.g. “I’m sorry for your loss”). Most of these phrases aren’t negative; if you don’t know the recipient or the deceased well, it makes sense to rely on these phrases as you might not know what to say. However, if upon re-reading your card you discover that you have relied too heavily on these phrases, take it as an opportunity to substitute in a fond memory or an offering of support.
Note: The most important cliches to avoid are those that diminish the recipient’s grief. Phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “it was their time” are rather precarious and are often seen as off putting. Avoid implying that there is any rhyme or reason to the recipient losing their loved one.
Write from the heart
Above all else, try to speak from a place of genuine empathy. There is no need to feign closeness that isn’t there or to feel pressure to come up with a fond memory. Offering your honest condolences with warmth and grace is the best way to make your well wishes meaningful.