Writing a Sympathy Card for a Suicide
Knowing what to write to someone who lost a loved one due to suicide is very difficult. On the one hand, you want to express your unconditional love and support to someone who is going through one of the worst experiences of their life. On the other, you do not want to touch too close to a subject (suicide) that is causing a lot of pain right now.
Striking that balance between tact and support can be hard, but it is not impossible. By writing from the heart and sticking to a few careful guidelines, you can write a suicide sympathy note that conveys everything you want to say.
- Mention the Deceased by Name: Do not be afraid to use the deceased’s name or to say things directly related to his/her life. (Example: “I’m so sorry to hear of Michael’s death. I never knew anyone with a smile as brilliant as his.”)
- Include a Happy Memory: Happy memories are going to be difficult to conjure up for a long time after a loss by suicide, so anything you can say to spark these positive moments is helpful. (Example: “I still remember that time Susan climbed the tree in my backyard in under ten seconds flat. She always had such an adventurous spirit.”)
- Do Not Mention the Death: Yes, death is the reason for sending a sympathy card, and no, you cannot ignore it, but you can still show tact about how the loss happened. Do not refer to the suicide directly or ask invasive questions. (Example: “We’re holding Paul in our minds and in our hearts. The pain of your loss is felt by us all.”)
- Be Yourself: Many people do not know what to say or how to act when a suicide occurs. While this is a perfectly natural response, it is not going to be helpful for the immediate family. Be yourself and act as normal as you can. (Example: “You know I’m always here if you need to chat or want to get away for a few hours. Coffee is only a phone call away, let’s connect next week.”)
- Avoid Religious/Spiritual References: Religious teachings on suicide are, in many cases, very explicit. Even if you feel strongly about suicide or share the family’s views on suicide, do not bring them up. Chances are that the family is shifting their view as they struggle to reconcile their past beliefs with their new reality. (Example: “May you be granted the strength you need in the coming days. Harriet was a precious daughter and a beautiful human being, and we will miss her.”)
If you simply cannot think of anything to say, a pre-printed sympathy card that you sign will also work in this situation. It is better to say too little than to say something that will cause deeper pain.