How To Offer A Letter of Sympathy

So often when we hear of the loss of a loved one at times, we may become filled with much emotion.

Maybe some happy, especially when we remember the “good” times we experienced with that person. Sometimes it may be sad – where we realize that the person’s journey with us has ended. These two highlighted emotions may come tinged with many other emotions on the spectrum.

It is at this time of loss, that some of us may want to express our sympathy in writing. Be it card or letter to the family, this is a kind gesture. At this time many of us do not know what to say and the fear of saying the wrong thing stifles us from expressing anything to the family. Our quick guide here can at least get you started on expressing sympathy to the family.

Do Not Express Relief

It is tacky and tasteless to say to the family members that they must be “relieved”. The possibility of not having to bear the medical or other costs because of the illness has been eliminated because of the passing of the loved one. Expressing relief should never be done since it is not a product to which we refer but a loved one. This loved one would have had some impact on the family. What can be stated for example… “she is now out of her pain…and is now at rest

In Sudden Death

If the death is unexpected or sudden – Do NOT solicit nor offer yours or any version of the graphic details of the instance. Remember each member of the family may be at a different stage of grieving and having to listen or rehash the details of the tragic moments can be traumatizing. Therefore as you offer your sympathy in writing – it is better to say that “the passing is untimely and should they need a listening ear then they can be reassured and comforted in having your support.

Never Compare

The death of your loved one maybe last week or even a year ago, cannot and should not be compared to the loss of a loved one in another family today. Even though circumstances may appear similar – each loss is different. Therefore it is in poor taste to express sympathy and to state thoughts  similar to this…” I know how you feel…” NO YOU DO NOT!!! Additionally it is not about you and therefore comparisons should not be made.

Do Not Grandstand

Maybe the deceased was a tough cookie. Offering this sentiment during the sympathy expression is never ideal. Just imagine how you ‘d feel if someone did it to you had you lost a loved one. What can be done is to highlight the quirk and make it in conjunction with a positive comment. For example, you may use imagery such as this…” I remember Joe was always a bit cranky but only until he saw his pet dog- Bessie and their relationship was always heart warming to see...”


Do not discuss private information in your sympathy expression. maybe there were other family members who didn’t know that “Frank” was seeking therapy. Revealing this info at this time may even cause a rift to occur in the family. It may appear as if someone was holding secrets. Private is private – including things which may have happened out of wed-lock. Expressing this as a form of sympathy is only inflammatory.

Property| Wills | Estates

This is off-limits before the funeral or memorial service takes place. Expressing the interest in the material goods of the deceased is not good, for if you do this at this time – you will come over as a gold-digger or gossip. The consideration of the estate will take precedence when some time has passed after the funeral. There are no specific amount of days in the timeline as it is already known that estate administration will occur. Give It Time…

Stop Talking…

Stop Talking…

So how can we more effectively listen and be present in a conversation with the bereaved who have lost their loved ones? This is a question which seems to stump quite a few persons. Based on our experience and that of professionals, they indicate in this article some of the steps to follow…

• *Being silent is the best way that you can listen to the bereaved. In fact sometimes, this is can be one of the most critical forms of communicating your support. In other words – be present and listen… This can also save you from saying the most inappropriate words.

• *Make a date to visit in person or chat with the bereaved on the telephone. Remember – there may also be quite a few persons wanting to visit or call on the family. Therefore exercising some patience is important, and understand that setting an appointment should also allow for a bit of flexibility.

• Begin the conversation with…“I’ve been thinking of you, and wanted to see how you were doing…” This is just one example of putting the thoughts of the grieving family member ahead of your own. Now is the important time to be a bit “self-less”

• Make and keep eye contact through out the conversation. Not only does this continue to build trust, but can also help the individual through the grieving process. Many family members after the process of grieving state that this left a positive impression and gave significant support during the crisis. This does not mean though, that there is a battle of the stares during the visit, but a reference point of building the unspoken connection.

• *Bear in mind that listening is the best gift you can give the bereaved. This speaks for itself…. However, be not distracted by technology devices and if used in conjunction with the previous point of maintaining eye contact – nodding can be effective as well.

• *Let them know you will be there for them if they need to talk again. As suggested you may be the go-to person in this event. Having built up possibly more confidence and trust with the grieving family member, than anyone else then be prepared to wash and rinse and repeat.

The more you listen, the easier it becomes. Always exercise sincerity in this process, as anyone can see through persons with other motives. Feel free to reach Fern’s Funeral Services, and our team of qualified resource persons which includes Priests, Chaplains and Counselors.

What NOT To Say…

Even those persons with the best intentions might say something inappropriate to the bereaved.

Hurtful sentiments can damage relationships; so many individuals stay away, fearing they’ll say the wrong thing. So what can you do? Stick to the basics when speaking with the bereaved. Communicate in some way your sadness at their loss and if you have some knowledge of the deceased, mention a quality you admired. For example: “I was so sad to hear of Jill’s death. Her wonderful nature always gave me a lift.”

Statements that get you into trouble are often your interpretation of the loss. Here are some areas you might want to avoid:

1. Comments that minimize the loss, such as: “You must be relieved that this is over” or “It’s for the best that she didn’t linger.”

2. Inappropriate statements, such as: “This is a blessing in disguise.”‘

3. Any suggestion there is something good in the experience, such as: “Look on the bright side” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

4. Comparisons of your pain and your experience to the person who is grieving, such as: “You must feel as dreadful as I did when I got my divorce.”

5. Any reference that you know how they feel; it is impossible to know how another person is feeling, even if you have experienced a similar loss.

The aim of expressing sympathy is to offer your compassion and concern for the bereaved. You can and should say how much you will miss the person who died. You can even share a happy memory. The most important thing to communicate or to leave with the family or friend is that you care and that you are available as a source of support.

Share your thoughts…here

On Hearing Of The Loss

This is by no means exhaustive in how we act or react at the time of grief. It must be kept in mind that the main purpose of having a funeral or memorial service is to express your love and respect to the deceased and their family. It also means that there some closure or maybe healing or such-like during this process.

So you’ve heard about the loss of someone…

Should you visit the bereaved?

As mentioned in other places – sometimes we just don’t know what to do when we hear of the death of someone. However, it is polite and simply common courtesy to call-on the bereaved to offer your sympathy and maybe even offer to assist. Be mindful that other persons may be likely to do the same thing and this is where simply offering your availability should an extra hand or listening ear can work. In fact if on visiting the family member and they are overwhelmed either with grief or with visitors – then – make your visit short.

What do you do while visiting?

If you are close to the family and know them well, them it is okay to assist in handling the telephone or the visiting guests who may come by to offer a hand. It is okay to take over the tea or coffee making and setting as comfortable atmosphere and understanding for both visitor and grieving family.

I don’t know what to say…

This is where the human empathy comes into play. The words from the last motivational book or class which we took is not going to make the grade, to offer to the grief stricken person. Genuine words and thoughts from the heart are in fact much more appreciated. Okay, so we may not be most eloquent, but it may be as much to say, or jot down a few thoughts on paper and offer a good memory of the deceased. Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything as the loved ones may be the ones to do the talking and expressing their thoughts. You can let them lead the conversation as well, since this is also a way to deal with the loss, and you may not necessarily need to respond.

Should we email our thoughts?

If emailing thoughts it may be recommended to do this only if you are not a close relative or family friend. Generally – do not send an email…A hand written note or card says a whole lot more. Failing this – it may be best to be in contact with the funeral home, and include your email with the rest of tributes being offered.

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