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How to write a condolence message

Writing a condolence message

A condolence message is a way of expressing your sympathies to a grieving friend or family after the death of a loved one. Sending a note or letter offering some words of condolence will let them know that you are thinking about them during their difficult time, which can offer some comfort.

Sending a message can also be an opportunity to offer help and support, if you are able, as well as share happy memories of their loved one.

Getting started

If you’re not used to writing, especially about sensitive topics, it can be difficult to know where to start with a condolence message. Try practising on scrap paper first if you are unsure of what to say.

Below is a rough layout of how your letter or card could be ordered. This is a basic layout that you could use for a condolence message, but there is no set structure you have to follow.

  1. Start with “Dear…” If you are writing to a family, try to include every family member’s name.
  2. Start the message by offering your condolences. This is where you tell them that you are sorry for their loss. You can phrase this in various ways, as you see fit. If unsure, you could say “I was so sorry to hear about your loss” or “I am deeply saddened to hear about the loss of your father.”
  3. Mention a few good qualities of their loved one. Talking about their loved one’s good traits will bring them comfort, knowing they were appreciated and loved. You could say something like, “I will miss her brilliant sense of humour and laugh – she was always the life of the party” or “He was so kind to anyone who needed help”. If you didn’t know them well, you could reflect on what others said about them: “By all accounts he was a kind and generous man” or “I wish I had known her better, she seemed to be so cheerful and caring.”
  4. Share a memory or story about that person. Grieving families can find great comfort in hearing new stories about their loved ones, so don’t be afraid to share cherished memories, as long as they are appropriate. It might be the first time you met, or the last time you saw them, or just a time when they really helped you out.
  5. Offer support if you can. If you are able and willing to offer any kind of support in the coming weeks and months, you can say so in your condolence message. For example, you might offer to help with specific tasks such as cooking, gardening or looking after children, or you might simply say, “If you ever need to talk, I’m here.”
  6. You may want to mention the funeral. If your letter will reach the family before the funeral, you may want to confirm whether or not you are going. If you are writing the letter after the funeral, you could say what a fitting tribute it was. If you did not attend the funeral, you could make your apologies by saying something like: “Please accept my apologies for not being able to attend the funeral.”
  7. Sign off with an appropriate message. An appropriate sign-off could be something like “with sympathy”, “with caring thoughts” or “our sincere sympathy”. If you are close to the bereaved, signing off with “lots of love” or “all my love” may be more appropriate.

Other things to bear in mind

  • Don’t be afraid to express your feelings. It is okay to say how much you miss that person, or how shocked you were when they passed away.
  • Try not to say things like “they’re in a better place” or “they’re with God now”. It’s best not to assume the bereaved family’s beliefs, as it may upset them. You don’t need to try to ease their pain.
  • Don’t say “I know how it feels” or “everything happens for a reason”. These kind of sayings can be hurtful, even if you don’t mean them to be.
  • Unless you know the family very well, stay away from jokes and humorous stories. It is hard to convey tone in writing and they may misread it as being insulting or uncaring.

Sample condolence messages

Below are two sample condolence messages in order to help you write yours. These messages are not real and all names are made up for the purposes of showing an example. The first one is from a close family friend to a bereaved family with younger children, the second is from an acquaintance who did not know the person who had passed away very well.

Sample 1

“Dear Sam, James and Alice,

I was so shocked and saddened to hear of Eleanor’s passing and all my thoughts are with you. I find it difficult to express how much we shall all miss her.

Ellie was such a bright, confident woman. People use the expression ‘light up the room’ all the time, but she really did bring light and happiness with her everywhere she went. She was one of the most caring and compassionate people I have ever met – and such a sense of humour too!

I remember when I first met Ellie. We sat next to each other at work and became friends instantly. She used to make me laugh like no one else could and always managed to calm me down when I’d had a stressful day.

The funeral was a wonderful tribute to her life. She would have loved the beautiful flower arrangements. If you speak to Anthony, please pass on my thanks for such a beautiful eulogy. I think he really captured Ellie’s spirit and personality.

Please remember that I am always here if you need me to look after James and Alice, I am more than happy to. Just give me a call.

With love and caring thoughts, Elizabeth.”

Sample 2

“Dear Dorothy,

Please accept my deepest condolences on the loss of your husband, Albert. I know how deeply you loved and admired him; all our thoughts are with you.

Regrettably I did not know Albert very well. We met once or twice at the annual midsummer garden party and he always seemed so cheerful and agreeable. By all accounts he was a kind and generous man and he will be missed by many.

William and I will be coming to the funeral next Wednesday to pay our respects, although unfortunately we will not be able to stay for the wake.

Again, deepest sympathies for your loss. We will keep you in our thoughts and hearts.

With sympathy,

Alison.”