Death is an inevitable and irreversible event that causes intense emotional and physical strain on the social and familial kins of the person who passes away.
For this, we are expected to express our concern or sympathy to the ones who are left behind, especially those we know very well.
Doing so exemplifies the important role of the social convention in writing a condolence letter to the bereaved people who can be one of our friends, relatives, or colleagues.
Our post today particularly discusses the steps to effectively conveying thoughtfulness and sympathy through a condolence letter.
Let’s start with a quick answer to the inquiry.
How to write a condolence letter?
Writing a condolence letter is ideally done by hand on a sympathy card because it communicates more thoughtfulness. The content of a condolence letter should include statements that convey sincere concern to both the bereaved and the deceased, as well as an active offer of help or assistance.
10 Steps to Writing a Condolence Letter
Death is a sensitive topic that entails a high degree of tact and civility among the people who are voluntarily or involuntarily affected by it.
Our social conventions generally dictate some acts that are intended for making death more bearable to the ones who are left behind.
One of these acts is writing condolence letters to the bereaved, especially those who are immediate family members of the person who passed away.
As some people may be having a hard time crafting condolence messages, we have exhaustively listed ten easy-to-follow steps that can be used as references.
Please note that our list contains some parts that you may conveniently skip should you feel the need to do so in relation to your overall context.
Specific examples that you may conveniently adjust according to your intent are also provided in each of the steps for clarity.
Here they are:
1. Choose to write using either a sympathy card or email
The first step is to decide whether you would like to use a sympathy card or email for your condolence letter.
Using a sympathy card means writing the condolence letter by hand, which is better for conveying more compassion and personalization to the addressee; this process may need more time and effort from you.
On the other hand, sending a sympathy message through email means you will have to type your condolence message and send it electronically, which is relatively less personal but more convenient.
The decision on this is mainly dependent on your geographical location, relationship with the bereaved person, and the time you can allocate to doing the task.
Writing by hand on an actual sympathy card communicates stronger emotions to your target recipient in the sense that you are willing to spend time and effort to write the letter.
Doing this is ideal especially in the context of death-related events and if you are really close with either the bereaved or the deceased person.
Meanwhile, writing your condolence letter via email or any other electronic messaging platform, albeit relatively less emotional, is still a good thing to do rather than inaction.
So, choose whichever is possible and better for you to do in relation to the overall context of your circumstance and the target addressee.
2. Start with a greeting or salutation
Once you have chosen the mode of communication, you may now proceed with the first and official step in writing a condolence letter, that is, to begin with an appropriate salutation.
Death-related events entail high emotion, tact, and sensitivity of the whole situation, so you must avoid salutations that may inadvertently convey cheerfulness.
Having just said this, you should steer clear of impersonal salutations like “To Whom It May Concern” and rather casual ones like “Hi” or “Hello.”
Depending on the degree of your social relationship with the recipient, formal to highly personal salutations like the ones listed below are more appropriate:
My dearest Kate,
3. Express sincere sympathy or solicitude on the first line
After the greeting, you may now proceed with composing a single sentence that should clearly and sincerely communicate the gist of your entire condolence letter.
You can use something along the lines of “Sorry for your loss” or its other alternatives depending on the degree of personalization you would like to evoke.
Using “Sorry for your loss” alone may not be enough, and hence, you may have to adjust it to a more personal or formal statement, should you feel the urge to do so.
For a cleaner and more pleasing visual representation, separate your first line from the rest of your condolence message that can be two to three paragraphs long.
You may use any of the following solicitude messages as your first line:
I am terribly sorry for your loss.
Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of (name).
I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to you and your family.
My heart weeps and grieves with you and your family during this dreadful time.
4. Explain how you feel about the event
Then, you may write another sentence explaining how the event affected you and how you feel about the passing of the person.
The tonality that you have to use here should also be dependent on how strong your relationship with the deceased or the bereaved is.
If you share a close bond either with the deceased person or the bereaved, structure your sentence in a more personal or heartfelt manner.
If you think you are relatively less acquainted with the deceased or the bereaved, use a more formal sentence structure for this part.
You may pick any of the following statements according to your intent and context:
The news about your sister’s untimely passing has been shocking and saddening.
I was saddened and disheartened by the passing of your late father.
I and my family dread and grieve on the loss of your wife, Mr. Smith.
My heart dreadfully aches on the untimely passing of your beloved child, Mrs. Berkeley.
5. Mention how you are connected to the deceased
The next step is to mention how you are connected to the deceased, especially if you are closer to him or her instead of the target recipient.
You might also be close to both the deceased and bereaved, which means that you can conveniently drop this part if you think it is more appropriate to do so.
After all, the purpose of mentioning your connection to the deceased is simply to eliminate any chances of confusion if and when your addressee may not know you that much.
For your reference, here are some examples that you can tweak as you wish:
I still clearly remember how I got to know about your father ten years ago.
I am truly honored to have met and known your mother since we were kids.
Although I am not personally connected with your sister,
I may not know your brother as much as you do,
6. Say something good about the deceased
Expressing kind words about the deceased is a social convention that is often expected in many cultures around the world.
We are doing this to highlight the good rather than the bad side of a person that we won’t be able to interact with anymore.
This act may also be an expression of politeness that is useful in maintaining the social harmony of the event, as well as the relationships of the deceased person’s family members.
And by extension, saying something good about the deceased would also convey how well you know the person, which would then support why you are sending a condolence letter.
Be careful not to overdo this part so as not to inadvertently come across as “pretentious” to the addressee, especially if the addressee has some idea of your actual relationship with the deceased.
Listed below are some examples:
He was such a talented musician and a great family man.
Your mother was one of the most optimistic and kindest women I know.
I believe your grandmother has fought cancer with utmost bravery and dignity.
Mr. Frost was one of the greatest mentors who has made a great impact on my life.
7. Express support toward the bereaved
The next crucial part of a condolence message is expressing emotional support toward the bereaved person, as well as his or her family.
In writing this part, it would be best to mention the addressee’s name to increase the degree of personalization, as well as the respect, to the bereaved person.
Using a person’s name in conversations is ideal in general because names are part of our social identity that we treat with either conscious or unconscious importance.
In a nutshell, doing this will inform the addressee of your message that you also care for him or her apart from the deceased.
Here are some examples of how to do this:
I am here with you during this difficult time, Pat.
I and my family are with you in this tough time, Macy.
Please know that I am here for you no matter what, Anna.
Please know that I and my family are here for you during this challenging time and beyond, Carl.
8. Offer assistance toward the bereaved
The next thing to do is to offer assistance to your target addressee as well as his or her family; ideally speaking, this step must not be left out in a condolence letter.
If you are really sincere with your condolence message, the urge to offer some assistance should come easily and naturally.
This is the part the grieving family members need the most, but most of the time, they find it hard to reach out to people outside of their close kins.
So we can alleviate the burden that they have by actively offering some form of assistance instead, which can be physical, emotional, or financial.
This part particularly becomes more crucial when you are sending the condolence message to your colleague who might need help from you while he or she takes some time off from work.
You may offer help or assistance through any of the following statements:
You must not hesitate to reach out for any help if and when you need it.
Please feel free to contact me and my family if you need anything.
Kindly let me know how I can help you, especially during this difficult time.
My doors are always open for you and your family should you need any assistance.
Bonus Step: Provide information on how you can be reached
As an extended argument concerning actively offering assistance, it would also be ideal to deliberately include your contact information on your condolence letter.
Doing this communicates genuine thoughtfulness in connection with the larger intent of offering help to the addressee and his or her family.
Here are some examples of how to structure your message:
You can still reach me at +1-209-987-6557, my old number.
Feel free to contact me via email or at +1-213-098-6632.
You can contact me through email or at +1-215-335-6120.
I am still using my old number +1-218-445-9967, as well as my email address.
9. End the message with a well-wishing note
Although the context of death is generally depressing, it would always be better to end your sympathy message with a positive note.
This positive note should be focusing on the improvement of the well-being of the addressee, as well as the family of the deceased.
At the end of the day, it is the rest of the family members who mainly need spiritual and emotional healing because they are the ones who suffer from grief.
You may end your condolence letter with any of these short well-wishing notes:
I wish you healing and peace.
I wish for your healing at all levels.
Best wishes to you and your whole family.
May you and your family heal at all levels in time.
10. End the letter with appropriate complimentary close and signature
Last but not least, you have to complete the structure of your condolence letter by using an appropriate complimentary close and signature.
Just like the salutation, the complimentary closing message also needs to have either a personal or formal tonality.
In line with this, it is best to avoid something that may inadvertently convey enthusiasm like “Warmest regards” or something too businesslike such as “Best regards.”
Listed below are more appropriate complimentary closing expressions and signatures that you can use in a condolence letter:
Yours in grief,
Putting it all together
Now that we have learned the recommended format as well as the content of a condolence letter, let’s also have a look at how all the parts fit in as a whole.
Here’s an example condolence letter that observes all the parts mentioned in the previous section:
Example Condolence Letter:
My heart weeps and grieves with you and your family during this dreadful time.
The news about your father’s untimely passing has been shocking and saddening for all of us. I can still clearly remember how I got to know him when I started working for his company fifteen years ago. Mr. Levin was one of the greatest mentors who has made a great impact on my life, and his kind of leadership has always been my inspiration to stay in the company for a long time.
Please know that I and my family are here for and with you during this challenging time and beyond. My doors are always open for you and your family if you need any assistance, so please do not hesitate to reach out for any help should you need to do so. You can still reach me through my personal mobile number +1-218-445-9967 or at [email protected].
I wish you healing and peace at all levels.
Lydia J. Clarkson
Frequently Asked Questions on “How to write a condolence letter”
How do you write a simple condolence message?
One of the simplest and shortest condolence messages that can be used in general death-related situations is “Sorry for your loss.” The degree of personalization of this expression can be increased by saying “I am extending my deepest condolences to you and your family.”
What is an example condolence message to a friend who lost her husband?
A good condolence message to a recently widowed friend is something along the lines of “Joe’s passing is not only shocking but also disheartening, and I cannot imagine how much pain you feel right now. Please know that I and my family are here for and with you during this difficult time and beyond. ”
How do you write a condolence letter to someone you do not know very well?
You can use a hedging expression like “Even though I do not know Joe personally…” followed by a positive yet non-pretentious note about the deceased like “I believe he has made a great impact on many people’s lives.”
Death is a natural process that every living organism has to go through. But, no matter how much aware we are of this fact, death is still generally painful.
Therefore, the need to effectively express sympathy messages to bereaved people who are in this kind of situation becomes even more apparent and vital so we can offer emotional assistance during these hard times.
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