Writing a Condolence Letter
Most people are familiar with sending sympathy cards upon the passing of a friend or relative, or even with sending funeral flowers or some type of gift basket to show their concern. These types of funeral gifts have become mainstream, allowing individuals from all over the country to participate in the funeral even if they can’t be there in person.
One way in which to take this type of sentiment to the next level is to write a condolence letter. So much more than a sympathy card, a heartfelt condolence letter provides a way to reach out to those in need through your words and deepest sentiments. And because this type of letter is meant to be sent on paper through the mail, it tends to mean much more than an email or other online message.
Differences between a Sympathy Card and a Condolence Letter
Sympathy cards are typically short notes that you either purchase or make to let a family know that you are thinking of them. Much like a birthday card or other commemorative item, the sentiment is short and sweet (although these particular ones express sympathy rather than joy).
A condolence letter tends to be longer, more formal, and can be sent any time in the weeks following death. Instead of offering a cookie-cutter sentiment, these letters are personalized to the receiver and the sender, often sharing stories of the past, providing favorite memories, or offering help (whether in the form of money or personalized assistance).
Writing the Letter
Of course, sitting down and putting pen to paper isn’t as easy as it sounds. At moments like these, we can often feel that we aren’t worthy of the task before us, or that our writing isn’t polished or perfect enough to capture everything we want to say.
Do your best to move past these obstacles. Yes, you might misspell words or use incorrect grammar. You might fail to express everything you want. Your handwriting might even be difficult to read. None of these things matter. At the end of the day, what you are giving the family isn’t just a piece of paper—it’s your time and your thoughts. These things are irreplaceable, no matter how much experience you have writing.
Some ideas to keep in mind:
- Write by hand rather than type.
- Choose nice stationery.
- Use your own voice rather than quotations or a poem.
- Include specific memories and details of the deceased.
- Offer specific help rather than vague sympathies.
- Refer to the deceased by name, where appropriate.
Most experts suggest that you send a condolence letter two weeks from the time of passing or the funeral. If you would like to have your letter read at the funeral as part of the eulogy (either because you cannot attend or because you are uncomfortable in a crowd), you can send the letter along earlier. In either case, the same guidelines apply.
Above all else, be honest and open your heart. This is one time in which restraint isn’t always necessary—especially if you loved the deceased and would like to share some of the memories that you had together.