Carly is an artist and therapist who likes to write content that helps others live mindfully.
What to Write
Sympathy cards are the most significant cards given and received, for they honor the life of a loved one and offer comfort to a beloved friend. Those who are grieving find solace in them. The first time the card is opened, it offers thoughtful empathy to soothe the pain of loss. Unlike other cards for other occasions, this is the card that might be read over and over again. When the bereaved are seeking comfort late at night or when no one else is available to offer a compassionate ear, this card will offer consolation.
Grief and loss are not limited to the funeral. The grief process lasts a lifetime. What you write in a sympathy card is important because it can offer comfort whenever the bereaved needs it, time and time again.
This article offers suggestions on what to write in a sympathy card for the following situations:
- When You Knew the Deceased
- When You Did Not Know the Deceased
- For the Loss of a Child
- For the Loss of a Mother or Father
- When the Death Was a Suicide
It also offers advice on what not to write, whether you should include money in a sympathy card, and what else you can do to support the grieving family. Examples of card inscriptions are included as well.
When You Knew the Deceased
First, address the family members to who the card is being given. (If you forget, the names are usually spelled correctly in the obituary, or you can call the funeral home or church to help with spelling.)
- Dear Jenny,
- Dear Joan's children,
Inside the card, use the deceased person's name. You will not hurt the families' feelings by acknowledging what they are already feeling and talking about, and avoiding the obvious makes everyone feel uneasy. You are acknowledging a life now gone, and there is no skirting around it. The bereaved know this and need it to be acknowledged and honored.
- Martha will be missed.
- The world will not be the same without Tony.
- Serena could light up any room, and I will miss her vibrant personality.
- Eager was an incredible friend to our family.
Write about a personal memory or a personality trait that made the person special and remarkable. This will help the bereaved connect to their loved ones. Memories help.
For instance, if you were a good friend to a woman 40 years ago, when you send a letter to her children, you will know something about their mother they may not remember or even know. It may be comforting to read that their mother used to be the life of the party, for example, or that she used to bake excellent chocolate chip cookies.
It is also comforting to know that the loved one will not be forgotten. Assure the bereaved that you will remember. For instance, you can say, "I will always remember Mike's ability to help others out. Back in 2010, the winter in Michigan was brutal. It was Mike, your dad, who came out in the middle of the night to help me jump-start my car. His goodness will not be forgotten."
When You Did Not Know the Deceased
Sometimes, you will write a card for the death of a person you've never met before. The card is for the bereaved (your friend, a co-worker, or a church or group member, perhaps), and sending a card acknowledging what they are going through, even if you did not know the deceased, is a compassionate and supportive thing to do.
Here are a few suggestions:
- "Dena, I want to acknowledge the loss of your brother. I can't imagine what you must be going through now. Know that I am here for you and holding you tight in my thoughts and prayers."
- "Dave, I didn't have the chance to meet your mother, but knowing you, she must have been very special, for she raised such a wonderful man who is my friend."
- "I am so deeply moved to hear that your father died over the weekend. You are not alone in your loss, for I am here for you as a friend."
For the Loss of a Child
A death of a child does not make sense. Even if the child had an illness and the family was aware that the death would happen, that still does not ease the pain. Even if the child had already grown up, a parent's pain is no less profound.
Here are some suggestions for what to write inside a sympathy card to the parents whose child died:
- Add a memory of the child or state characteristics of the child you will always remember.
- Acknowledge the death. If you cannot acknowledge it, then the parents will know you are someone they cannot talk to (because death makes you feel uncomfortable).
- Offer comfort.
- Offer ways to be supportive of the family, especially if they have other children to look after.
- "Brianna was such a joy to be around. Her infectious laughter always brought a smile to my face when I remember her being giddy around her girlfriends."
- "I can never look at a red truck and not think of Noah. He always had his red truck in his hands. I remember when he left his truck at my house one time, and I knew I had to return it that night or he wouldn't go to bed. When I see red trucks, I will always smile, thinking of Noah."
- "My son Steven will miss his buddy, Luke. The boys always played so well together. I enjoyed having Luke over at my house; he was always so polite and had interesting things to say. Luke had a significant positive influence on Steven. His memory and personality touched us all deeply, but Steven most of all. I feel that Luke's influences will live on in Steven for the rest of his life."
- "Tara will never be forgotten."
- "I do not have the words to say how sorry I am to hear that A.J. died. A baby dying of SIDS does not make sense. I can't imagine the pain you must be going through. Your baby will never be forgotten. Though she was here a short while, her memory will last a lifetime."
For the Loss of a Mother or Father
Losing a parent is one the most significant, painful things a person can endure. No matter what age the child is, losing a parent is never easy. Adult children can be significantly affected by the death of their parents. Even as adults, they are still their parent's child. Those grieving the death of a parent may feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, regret, anger, relief, and abandonment. Writing a sympathy card for the loss of a parent can be a powerful gesture of comfort.
Here are some examples of what to write when someone has lost their parent:
- "Your mom was such an amazing, beautiful woman. I always admired your family from afar and that has a lot to do with your mother. Knowing her has made me a better person."
- "Although your father was quiet and kept to himself, his presence on this earth will be significantly missed. He was a quiet saint, always doing kind things for others without wanting recognition. He has inspired me to be a better, more giving person."
- "This town will never be the same without your mother. She was the life, the joy, the humor, and the grace of this community. Her legacy will live on with laughter by the jokes she told me over and over again. Like this joke . . . "
- "If every daughter had a dad like yours, we would all feel so loved. He was a role model that I hope more fathers could be like. I remember how he treasured and doted on you, his special daughter. His love will always be a part of you."
- "Our parents do not need to be perfect in order for us to miss them. I know this is a complicated time of grieving your mother (father). We often grieve what we did not receive from them; at the same time, we grieve what we did receive."
When the Death Was a Suicide
Suicides do not make sense. The bereaved are left with a thousand broken shards and sometimes a huge burden of guilt and blame. Many people might avoid sending or writing anything to a family who is reeling from suicide, but these families also need support and condolences. Taking the time to find a card and write a note can be extremely beneficial to their grief process.
Here are some ideas to help ease the pain (remember to always acknowledge the name of the person who is deceased):
- "I am so, so sorry to hear about Ava's death. I cannot imagine the turmoil and pain you must be going through."
- "John was such an amazing young man. This is an unbearable tragedy, and I am here for you to talk whenever you need to."
- "Today does not make sense, tomorrow probably won't either, but the pain of this tragedy will not always hurt as bad as it does today."
- Thinking of you, wishing you hope in the midst of sorrow and comfort in the midst of pain.
- Wishing you hope and peace during this difficult time.
- Remembering with you the life of your precious son.
- Holding you close in my thoughts and prayers.
- I am thinking of you and your family at this difficult time.
- Remember that I love and care about you tremendously.
- Words seem inadequate to express the sadness I feel about Serena's death.
- I am here to support you in your grieving process.
- (Name of deceased) brought so many gifts to our life. We will never forget him.
- May your heart and soul find peace and comfort.
- Peace, prayers and blessings.
I am deeply moved to hear your husband died. I want to reach out to you and say you are not alone in this time of grief. Just know you are constantly in my thoughts and prayers. If my hug could take some of the pain away, I would hold you tight until you felt a bit better.
Please accept my heartfelt condolences,
Words cannot adequately express my feelings of sorrow on hearing about the death of your wife. You and your children are being held in my prayers and heart. I would be happy to watch the children any time when you just need space to grieve for yourself. No one could ever replace Martha; she was a dear friend and an amazing mother. Her mothering and love will not end, for she is in each of your children, in their thoughts, and especially in their hearts. Her love and wisdom will guide them for the rest of their lives. I know this to be true because I can still hear Martha's laughter, and I continued to be touched by her friendship that, in some unique way, is giving me comfort now.
I will call you in a week to check on you and your family and also coordinate a good time for me to stop by one evening. I would like to bring over dinner for all of you and maybe take the kids out for ice cream so you can have an hour or so of break.
With deepest sympathy,
Your father was such an amazing man and a pleasure to be around. I remember when he took us on vacation that one summer. We had so much fun together, and I was deeply in awe watching how much he loved you and your sisters. You are in my deepest thoughts. Your father will be truly missed. Great men like your dad are rare.
We are here for you day or night whenever you need us. I have enclosed a gift card for Olive Garden. I know Italian food was your dad's favorite. May you enjoy his memory at dinner. I regret living so far away that I can't take you out but know I am always a phone call away. I will call to check on you in a few weeks when the funeral preparations have subsided.
Your friend always,
Knowing when someone is going to die does not make it any easier when it happens. I know your mother had been struggling with her cancer for months, and I know how very hard this time must be for you now. If I could soothe your pain with words of comfort and love, I would say your mother is no longer in pain and experiencing the trauma cancer can bring onto someone. She is at rest and at peace. She is perfect in every way in God's embrace.
I will always remember her as vibrant and full of life. Remember when she wore that bright orange scarf with her green shirt? We all had a good laugh because she loved to wear colors but could never seem to match. Today, in honor of your mother, I am wearing bright mismatched colors. I hope to bring laughter to those who see me today because, in reality, it is her inspiration that will bring laughter to people who see me today. Your mother's spirit will not die with her body. She will continue to touch and evoke laughter from me for years to come, as I will remember her fondly.
Remembering your mother in love, light and much laughter,
What Not to Write
- I understand how you feel. (Mostly, everyone dislikes when someone says this. No one can truly understand how another feels.)
- It was her time. (For the bereaved, it never seems like the right time.)
- God needed her. (So do the people still on earth. This statement does not always offer compassion in the intent it offers. Especially if it is a parent to a child, the child still very much needs a parent.)
- It is for the best. (The best for who? It is hard when you are in the middle of grief to understand what is for the best at that time.)
- At least she is out of her misery. (There is a time and place to talk about the illness and death, but a sympathy card ought to reflect on comfort, not the illness.)
- When my so-and-so died . . . (This is not about you.)
- He was a real S.O.B. (All relationships are complicated. Sympathy cards are not the time and place to discuss the negative aspects of the deceased to help ease the pain of others.)
- If you need anything, just call. (Although this is generous, most who are grieving will not call if they need something. Instead, anticipate what they need and offer that.)
Should I Include Money in a Sympathy Card?
In some cultures, generations, and family traditions, putting money inside a sympathy card is customary. Funeral costs are expensive.
Money inside a sympathy card can significantly help with funeral costs, especially if the death was sudden. Even if $20.00 is put into each card, the money adds up quickly. Families can use the money to pay off funeral costs or create a scholarship fund in the memory of the deceased. Sometimes families will donate money towards research or a cause that will prevent others from dying in a similar way.
During the visitation at the funeral home, there are usually envelopes available for donations. You can do this anonymously or put your name on the envelope. The envelopes are inserted into a lock box that will be given to the family after the visitation.
Please note, the registration book at the funeral home offers a way to support the family in writing thank you notes, so it is important to write your name and address legibly. This supports the family in writing thank-you notes. Family members may not have all the addresses kept safely or may not know where to look in regards to writing thank you notes after their loved one dies.
Average Funeral Costs
Funeral costs vary between funeral homes, geographic areas, and choices regarding funeral procedures. If you're wondering if you should send money, remember the fee for the funeral director’s services and the cost for using the funeral home for the service, the cost for a casket or urn, gravesite or vault, grave liner or burial container, headstone, embalming or cremation, cost to dig the grave—not to mention the cost of the obituary, flowers, hearse, church, graveside services, clergy, death certificate, reception, printed materials, guest book, and viewing visitation times.
It can easily cost $10,000 or more for funeral expenses.
Other Ways to Support a Family in Mourning
- gift card to a restaurant or Starbucks
- a babysitter
- take their dog for a walk or offer a gift card to a kennel to have their animals looked after for a day or two
- a casserole or other comforting food
- gift card to a florist
- a donation to the church
- a donation to a foundation or research
- a tree
- a plaque or a bench with deceased's name on it
- name a star after the deceased
- rake the leaves or mow their lawn
Questions & Answers
Question: What words can I put in a card to someone who's brother committed suicide? I didn't know the brother, and I've only met this person twice, but he's a good friend of a good friend.
Answer: This is a difficult note to write. I suggest by first, acknowledging the lost.
Here are some ideas to help ease the pain (remember always to acknowledge the name of the person who is deceased):
"I am so, so sorry to hear about Ava's death. I cannot imagine the turmoil and pain you must be going through."
"This is an unbearable tragedy, and I am here for you to talk whenever you need to."
"Today does not make sense, tomorrow probably won't either, but the pain of this tragedy will not always hurt as bad as it does today."
© 2012 Carly Sullens
peachy from Home Sweet Home on October 25, 2015:
wonderful quotes for the departed ones. I like" The world will not be the same without Tony.:" makes the person especially special
Carly Sullens (author) from St. Louis, Missouri on February 18, 2015:
brsmom, thank you. I am glad you found it useful. Thank you for sharing.
Diane Ziomek from Alberta, Canada on February 13, 2015:
I always have trouble writing in a sympathy card, and writing is my career. This couldn't have come at a better time for me, as I have an upcoming funeral for my great-aunt. I am sharing this one with my followers.
Carly Sullens (author) from St. Louis, Missouri on April 21, 2014:
Thank you Kenneth. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. I will continue to check out your writings. I am already a follower of you. :)
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on April 19, 2014:
Carly, I am glad that I revisited this again. I took a look at the section on HOW NOT to write things in sympathy cards and it is true. I have received many with mostly these same examples.
This is a wonderful hub. A great read. Very helpful and informative. I voted up and away. I admimre your writing style and know that only good things will happen to you with works like this.
I am following you and left you some fan mail. I cordially invite you to check out my hubs and be a follower of mine. That would make my day.
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on November 05, 2013:
Girl, you nailed it. Voted up and away on this very-nice, in-depth hub.
Love how you express yourself.
Keep up the great work.
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on June 20, 2013:
Thank you for writing such a helpful article. Sometimes we just get so stuck for how to express what we want to say. You have said it so beautifully.
Carly Sullens (author) from St. Louis, Missouri on June 07, 2013:
Thank you for stoping by epbooks. I am glad you found this hope useful.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on June 06, 2013:
This is fantastic. I think you've described how many of us feel but couldn't quite put into words. And - very smart to anticipate what the person grieving might need. So true that most won't come out and ask for assistance.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 18, 2013:
From feelings to funeral costs, you seem to cover everything. So thoughtful and so well presented.
catgypsy from the South on April 17, 2013:
Something I got a lot of when my parents passed (they were both in their 80's) was, "How old was your dad?" When I'd say 85, they'd say "Oh, well...he had a full life." Same with my mom. It was so painful hearing this, like because they were old, it didn't matter and was to be expected. Great hub!
dhairya on December 09, 2012:
this is very nice imformation
Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on October 08, 2012:
This is very useful information. No matter how many times I've written a sympathy card, I always have to review how to write one that is meaningful for each family. All your tips are valid and I've marked this for future reference. I just wrote a sympathy card last month and I wish I'd had this valuable resource then. Thanks so much!
Dianna Mendez on September 20, 2012:
Voted up for all the wonderful suggestions. This is certainly a helpful hub for those times of sorrow. Love the gift ideas and the posting of the costs. WEll done!!!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 18, 2012:
Excellent resource Carly! Good to have you back! I know these are great suggestions because they come from a compassionate woman.
stillwaters707 from Texas on September 18, 2012:
Thank you for such usable examples. It's a tough task, so it helps those who want to offer comfort and don't know how.
Ruth Pieterse on September 18, 2012:
Such a well thought out hub. Voted up and useful.
DragonBallSuper on September 17, 2012:
it was her time...at least she was out of her misery..it's for the best.. that's what i got when my grandma died and i feel like punching that person on the face..you're right that we should not include this while symphatizing. it's not really good to hear. thanks also for the suggestions.
Janine Huldie from New York, New York on September 17, 2012:
Carly, I have pinned this to be able to refer back to, because sometimes the right wods are hard to come by when has indeed lost a loved one. Your article really does give some perfect examples and will definitely being using them when I do need. Have of course voted and shared too!