How to Write a Sympathy Note with Confidence

Your best friend’s father has passed, a co-worker just lost his wife to a long illness, or the unspeakable; someone you know has lost a child.  You’ve looked at every sympathy card available only to realize each fall short for such a time as this. You decide to write your own in a blank note card, but still, you can’t imagine how any words can bring comfort.  Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced this.

It’s true, to some degree, that there are few words which can comfort someone in their time of tragedy; trying to reach into that space of sorrow, so isolated and dark, seems like an unconquerable task.  Nevertheless, when you reach out to such a one during this time you offer a consolation and reassurance so desperately needed.  It let’s them know you care, and they are not alone.  What better way to express that than in your own words.

“But, how do I write a sympathy note without saying the wrong thing?”  That seems to be the question most of us have.  During such life altering circumstances we aren’t always sure what to say or do, which in turn makes us uncomfortable.  To remain responsive to the bereaved individual, and to diminish any misgivings we may have about our ability to respond appropriately, perhaps it’s best to first define the word ‘sympathy’.  It will help us to understand the purpose of a sympathy note, and give us a better viewpoint from which to write it.

The Webster dictionary describes the word in part as “…the art or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another.”  From that perspective we can see that the purpose of writing a sympathy note is to let others know that we are allowing ourselves to share their feelings by sympathizing with their experience.  No matter what our personal experiences, we share in the emotions of another solely for their sake.

The word ‘sympathy’ is usually associated with times of adversity, which is the association we are referring to in this article, but sympathy can also be offered in times of joy; such as a friend’s job promotion, or the birth of a co-worker’s baby.  It’s the process of moving out of ourselves, regardless of happy or troubled circumstances in our own lives, and showing a genuine interest in what is happening in the life of another.

Now that we’ve established what sympathy is, let’s discuss six ways ways which will help us to write a sympathy note we can feel confident about sending.

Step Up To The Plate:  Sad emotions are not preferred ones for most people, but they’re a part of life.  Shying away from them, whether they are yours or someone else’s, doesn’t make them non-existent.  Before you pick up the pen, acknowledge the sadness; understand that there is a purpose behind it, and be willing to communicate.

Determine The Relationship:  Your relationship with the bereaved and/or the deceased will determine what and how much you say.  If the individual you are writing to is an acquaintance, a brief, but sincere note may better suite the situation.  “I heard of your mother’s passing, and I wish to acknowledge your loss.  You and your family are in my prayers,” is sufficient, since you are not in familiar standing with the individual or the deceased.  If, however, you know the bereaved or knew the deceased through a familial bond or friendship, you may wish to share a memory. This can strengthen the bond, and create a warm moment for the bereaved.

Offer Comfort, Not Healing:  Don’t place pressure on yourself by trying to heal the emotions of a grieving individual with words.  Healing is within the bereaved, and it will manifest in its own time and in its own way.  Offering comfort, and any assistance that is in your power to give for that moment, will be more effective.  “I offer my condolences to you on your wife’s passing.  I am preparing some meals for you, and I will deliver them Tuesday,” reassures the person that you care, and you are willing to be of service.  If you are not in a position to offer them physical comfort, supportive words are sufficient, “You are daily in my thoughts and prayers.  May this spiritual excerpt bring you solace.”

Don’t Make Assumptions:  People grieve in different stages, therefore it’s best not to make an assumption about their present emotions.  Writing, “I know how you feel,” even if you do, may seem presumptuous.  A phrase such as “I, too, have experienced the loss of a child.  I’m willing to listen if you wish to talk,” or “I can only imagine what you are going through, but I’m willing to listen to you, talk with you, or just be present with you,” allows your sympathy to be expressed without making assumptions.

Focus On The Present Moment:  Using phrases such as “This will pass”, or “Time will heal”, are usually irrelevant to a person who’s lost a loved one.  A grieving individual is not emotionally within time and space as you are logically experiencing it, and trying to convince them of those concepts is futile.  Reference the present moment at all times.  “You are in my heart during this sorrowful time,” or “Your father had a gift to bring out the best in people.  He will be remembered by many,” allows bereaved individuals the freedom to feel within the present moment, without the pressure of hurrying the healing process.  For most individuals, in a sense, time has stopped for them, and for a period they will be living life minute to minute.

Keep Your Words Sincere:  Remember, the purpose of a sympathy note is to express genuine interest in what another is experiencing.  Write only what you mean and can follow through with.  If you offer to bring meals for the family during a specific time, follow through.  If you mention in your note that you will call them, make time to call.  During this period in someone’s life they need to know your words are reliable.

My friends, don’t be afraid of words.  I must admit that when I sat down to write this article I knew what I wanted to say, but as the article progressed, I found myself doing the very thing I wished to alleviate for you; agonizing over words.  But the more we agonize over the “right” words the harder it will be to write the note.  You have good instincts; trust them.  You will write a sympathy note that you feel confident about sending if you

*Acknowledge sadness is a part of life, and has a purpose;
*Determine the relationship you have with the bereaved and/or deceased;
*Offer comfort with supportive words and, if possible, assistance;
*Don’t make assumptions about how someone may feel;
*Use phrases which focus on the present moment; and…
*Write only what you mean and can follow through with.

The more you let go of self, and relate to others from a place of love and compassion, expressing with the written word will come more easily to you.  Truthfully, that’s what the recipient of your note really wants; words that are genuine and sincere – your words.

Thank you for strolling by the Lane today.  May your day be full of joy, and…

Until next time, may happy days abound!


Sympathy Card

IMG_1656Hello Friends,

Thank you for joining me today as I show you a sympathy card I made for someone who recently lost her husband.  These are not happy cards for me to make, as you can well imagine, and especially that this particular couple were still young in the scheme of things.  But I wanted to acknowledge her husband’s passing with something from my heart.

I used the same Prologue from Hereafter, as I did in another similar version, but without the added lace and beading as the other, since I felt it made it look too feminine.  I wanted to keep it more simple. I did add some netting and a bit of seaside sparkle to keep with the theme and to add a little brightness.  I don’t know why I chose musical paper for an accent layer, perhaps it represents the song of the sea, or perhaps something more hidden, yet to be discovered about the couple.  Nevertheless, something within me nudged me to utilize it.

May your day be brightened with gratitude of Life and Breath for our loved ones and ourselves, and may you all be blessed.

Until next time, my friends, may happy days abound!

Marianne ♥

Note:  The above verse is from the Prologue to Hereafter. 

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