Sympathy Card Etiquette

Learn What to Say and How to Say It

Having good sympathy card etiquette means knowing what you should and shouldn’t say in times of great sadness. Having confidence when writing them is important so that you can be sure your message is received how you intend.

If and when you are given the sad news of a death you must firstly decide what the most appropriate form of contact is with the bereaved.

You have two choices:

  • A phonecall
  • A condolence lettter

Phone calls should really only be made to family and close friends. Email is not considered appropriate.

Once you have decided to write a condolence letter then I would suggest buying a specific sympathy card, it feels more respectful and humble than your own personalised stationery might be. For example, my correspondence cards are pink which would not feel appropriate in these circumstances.

It is good sympathy card etiquette to send your condolence letter as soon as possible; no delaying or procrastinating on this one. I have included sample condolence letter wording below and the following tips should also be borne in mind:

  • Write short sentences and keep it to one or 2 paragraphs
  • Acknowledge the loss and use the deceased’s name
  • Give a sincere expression of sympathy in simple straightforward language
  • Give an anecdote only if they were well known to you
  • Avoid saying that you know how the bereaved feel
  • Avoid quotes from books or poets

Condolence letters should not be over sentimental and you should ensure the sign off is respectful.

Sample Condolence Letters

Dear Paul,

I would like to express my sincere condolences on the recent passing of your dear father. It must be an especially difficult loss.

I am glad your father was able to spend some time at your home during his last few weeks. I hope that not having to be in the hospital in those final days provided some comfort.

You are in our thoughts and prayers. We will be thinking of you and the rest of the family.

With much love,

Dear Sarah,

It was with a great sense of loss when I heard of Robert’s death.

I wanted to let you know that you have my greatest sympathy, and my heart is truly saddened.

Robert was more than just a wonderful person; he was always so kind and considerate to us that we always welcomed seeing him at every opportunity.

And, we know that his passing will not only leave a void in our lives, but in the hearts of all those who knew him.

Robert will always remain within our hearts, and we have included you in our daily prayers. May God give you strength.

If there is anything that we can do to help you in anyway, please do not hesitate to call us at any time. You can phone either of us at ... even if it is only to talk.

Our sincere thoughts and prayers are with you.

With our deepest sympathy, 

Other Correspondence Etiquette Skills to learn on this site:

Invitation Etiquette

How to RSVP

Thank You Note Etiquette

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The Author, Emma Dupont, runs various courses in London during the year.

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