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How to Write a Condolence Message

Updated on June 12, 2023Writing Tips

Death is never easy. And when you hear that someone you know has experienced a loss, it can be difficult to know what to say: You want to acknowledge what’s happened while being sensitive to their feelings.

The main thing to remember is that losing a loved one can be a difficult and isolating experience. Sending a sympathy message—which is a common practice for those who know someone who’s grieving—can provide some much-needed support or a kind word in these situations. And it lets them know they aren’t alone.

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Here’s what you should know about writing a thoughtful sympathy message.

What is a condolence message?

A sympathy message (also called condolences, or a condolence message) is a brief letter or card that’s meant to let a person in mourning know they are not alone in this difficult time in their life.

When should you write a condolence message?

You should write a short condolence message when someone you know has lost a loved one, such as a friend, family member, or beloved pet.

4 parts of a condolence message

1 Greeting

As with any letter, you should start with a greeting. You can and should keep this brief. For example, a simple “dear [name]” or even just their name can do the trick.

2 Heartfelt condolences or sympathies

This is the primary purpose of the message. You should communicate your sorrow or sympathy for their loss at this point in the message or card. (See examples of this below.) This can also include an offer of support.

3 A memory or brief anecdote (if appropriate)

If you had a significant relationship with the deceased, you can include a memory or anecdote that illustrates that relationship. Just remember to keep it brief so as not to overwhelm the recipient.

4 Signature

Finally, you should end a condolence message with your signature (or your name, if you’re using an electronic method).

Dos and don’ts of writing a condolence message

Although there is no one right way to write a sympathy message, there are some key guidelines that you should keep in mind as you write one.

Do be thoughtful about the context

Tone is always important to keep in mind when writing, but it’s especially important in a condolence message. The circumstances of the death may play a role in how you approach your message. For example, if it was expected after a battle with an illness, the family may be more oriented toward celebrating the life of the deceased, rather than focusing on the loss. However, others may find that approach off-putting, especially if the death was unexpected.

Don’t say you know how they feel

Every loss is different. And even if you’ve been in a similar situation, it’s important to remember that your experience isn’t necessarily the same as theirs. (This is the difference between empathy and sympathy.) In fact, implying or stating that you know how they feel can be hurtful to those in mourning, so it’s best avoided.

Do keep relationship dynamics in mind

Be mindful of how close you were to the deceased, as well as how well you know the person you’re addressing. For example, a message for a coworker who’s experienced a loss is going to sound quite different than one for a close family member.

Don’t make it too lengthy

Those who are grieving can find it difficult to keep up with the demands of life; avoid a long-winded message that requires focus (and potentially a response). By keeping the message short, you put them, and their time and energy, at the forefront.

Do focus on kindness

Losing someone is hard, so a sympathy message should always lead with kindness. This means centering the needs of the recipient, and remembering that the message isn’t about you. Sending thoughts of comfort, peace, love, a big hug, or an openness to talk are good ways to express kindness.

Don’t minimize their pain or loss

Although it may be your initial reaction to say something along the lines of “[name] is in a better place now,” or “at least [name] isn’t in pain anymore,” or “time heals all wounds,” this can strike the wrong tone for those who are grieving. These phrases also invalidate their pain, so try to avoid those types of sentiments.

Don’t ask questions in your message

A condolence message is not the place for questions, even ones that are meant to be helpful. Again, those who are grieving already have a lot on their plate. For example, instead of asking if there’s anything you can do to help, say that you’ll check back in with them after a certain amount of time (or after an event, such as a funeral) to provide additional support.

10 alternatives to “I’m sorry for your loss”

Although the phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” gets to the point of a sympathy message, its ubiquity can make it sound impersonal. That’s especially true if you’re writing to someone who is close to you.

Here are some alternatives you may want to consider:

1 [Name] will be deeply missed.

2 I’m sending you all of my love during this difficult time.

3 I was so sorry to hear about the passing of [name/relationship to the recipient].

4 Thinking of you and your family during this tough time.

5 I didn’t have the opportunity to meet [name], but it’s clear that they were a special person, and their loss will be felt by many.

6 I want you to know that I’m here for you.

7 Words can’t express how sorry we were to hear about [name]’s passing.

8 It was a privilege to know [name]—they touched so many lives.

9 [Name] was one of a kind, and their legacy of [quality, such as kindness or generosity] was felt by so many.

10 I’m so sorry, my friend. [Name] was such a special person. My heart goes out to you and your family.

Condolence message FAQs

What is a condolence message?

A condolence message or letter is meant to comfort those who are mourning a loss.

When should you write a condolence message?

After someone you know has lost a loved one or pet. For example, this may be after an obituary is published, or after you hear the news from someone you know.

What should a condolence message include?

It should include three or four key parts: a greeting, heartfelt condolences or sympathies, a memory or brief anecdote about the deceased (if appropriate), and a signature.

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