Writing a Sympathy Card for the Loss of a Distant Relative
Most of us know what a sensitive subject death is when the deceased was someone close to you. Losing a parent, sibling, spouse, or child is one of the most difficult experiences, and showing your support through sympathy cards, funeral flowers, offers of physical support, and attending the funeral is common.
When the person who dies is not an immediate relative, however, what is expected of you? When a friend loses a cousin they have not spoken to in years, a great-aunt, or a former boss from a decade ago, it is difficult to know how much support is expected. Although everyone deals with this kind of death differently, a sympathy card is a good way to show you care.
- Use the Deceased’s Name: Make an effort to discover the deceased’s name (with correct spelling and relationship) and include it in the card. This shows a level of attention above and beyond a generic greeting card. (Example: “I was so sorry to hear of your Great Uncle Harold’s passing.”)
- Don’t Feign Knowledge You Do Not Have: You probably never met the deceased in real life, and there is a good chance your friend did not talk about them, either. That is okay. Do not rely on Facebook research to uncover clues about their life to make your card more personal. Instead, acknowledge your relationship with honesty. (Example: “I never met your cousin Beto, but you and your family are still in my heart at this difficult time.”)
- Make a Sincere Offer: Your friend might not need you to bring over casseroles and take care of the kids, but that does not mean they don’t need your support. Make a specific offer of help/support and stick to it. (Example: “I have a few extra sick days if you feel like you need more time.” Or, “I’d love to hear all about your Great Aunt Margaret over coffee sometime next week if you need to talk. My treat.”)
You can also stick to some of the general grief responses called upon for this type of sympathy card:
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“We’re thinking of you at this difficult time.”
“Loss is never easy, but you’re in our hearts and prayers.”
“Thinking of you and yours.”
“May you find the strength to see you through these difficult days.”
“I’m here whenever you need me.”