The unthinkable has happened – a friend or family member of someone you know has passed away. The pain and grief they are experiencing is a feeling you may or may not have experienced, yet you still want to do your best to be there for them. But what exactly is the right thing to say when someone passes away?
In these instances, a condolence letter is often the perfect gesture to show the person grieving that you acknowledge their loss, you sympathize with their pain and your thoughts are with them. The right words may not be easy to find or the most obvious, but a heartfelt effort to someone who has lost a loved one during this time is better than silence.
Why You Should Write a Condolence Letter
A condolence letter is much more than just a sympathy note. Although they may express the same thoughts, they tend to be a bit longer and have a little more sentimental value. Even if you struggle with finding the right words to say, anything that shows that your thoughts are with them provides those grieving the comfort they need during a difficult time.
Instead of picking a mass-produced and generic sympathy card at your local store, a handwritten condolence letter adds a personal and more heartfelt touch. Personal words carry more weight and they show that the recipient is important to you, as well as the grief they are going through.
In addition, keep in mind that the earlier you write your letter, the better. So aim to have written and mailed or hand-delivered your condolence letter within the first two weeks following the loss.
Components of a Condolence Letter
Above all, a condolence letter should be personal and come from the heart. If you stick to this rule, you can include the necessary components and avoid it sounding like a form letter.
Acknowledge the deceased. In these opening sentences, you should acknowledge the deceased and refer to them by name. However, you don’t want to place too much emphasis on the cause or manner of death.
Express your sympathy. Here, you might want to start with something like “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I can’t imagine the pain you must feel, but know that I am thinking of you during this difficult time.” Anything that shows you are with them and can understand the pain they are going through will provide a great source of comfort.
Get personal. This part of your letter should highlight some of the deceased’s strengths, their special qualities and a favorite memory or a time this person made you smile. You could start with a simple “I will always remember” and go right into your memory. Maybe you weren’t that close to the deceased. In this case, you might want to go along the lines of “I will always remember how much you loved ___.” Most importantly, this section should focus on retelling stories of how this person lived, not how someone died.
Offer to help with practical matters. From planning funeral arrangements to thinking of what’s next, there are probably a million things going through the mind of the bereaved. The phrase “Let me know what I can do to help,” is often heard. To avoid placing more of a burden on the grieving by making them come up with an errand you could run or other practical matters you could handle, try offering to take on something specific, such as offering to cook a meal the day after tomorrow or pick up the next load of dry cleaning.
Appropriate closings. The end of your condolence letter should express your sympathy as well as let the bereaved know that your thoughts and prayers are with them. You want to make sure this section is as meaningful and heartfelt as the rest of your letter. Avoid one-word endings and opt for something like “My thoughts and prayers are with you” or “I will always be here.” Anything that shows support for your friend will be a great way to end your condolence letter.
Every condolence letter will be different depending on the situation, but one thing should be the same – a note containing loving expressions of sympathy written from the heart.
Although support from friends and family is always appreciated, the emotional upheaval of these trying times may still be too much for the grieving. For more grief support resources, visit Bevis Funeral Home’s online Grief Support Guide or give us a call today at (850) 385-2193.