When There Are No Words
4 tips on how to write a (really good) sympathy card after something (absolutely terrible) has happened
What to say:
1. Be sincere and share how you’re feeling without overshadowing their grief.
- Example of sharing your pain in an appropriate way: “Desi was such a positive light in my life. His humor brought me so much joy over the years. I will miss him terribly.”
- Example of overshadowing the bereaved’s pain: “This is the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me — I don’t know how I will get through this.”
2. Share a fond memory if you have one — especially if the card receiver has never heard it.
Anything that stands out to you will be special, even if it seems insignificant.
3. Share how you will continue to remember and honor the deceased (examples below)
- “I know Ralph loved key lime pie. Whenever I see it on the menu I’ll be sure to order it and think of him.”
- “My children are too young to remember your mom, but I will tell them about those adventurous summers we had camping together. I’m going to teach them how to light a campfire, just like how she taught me.”
4. If you want to offer help, be specific. If you can make a commitment, do it.
- Avoid (at all costs) ‘call me if you need me’ — this puts the burden of action on the person you are trying to help. They will never call you.
- Offer a concrete way to help. Try ‘I will bring you dinner next week’, or ‘I can watch the kids for you on Friday morning’ and follow up on your offer.
- If you are in a position to offer ongoing support, don’t be shy about sharing what you can do. For example, “I am home every Sunday afternoon. I would love to have your kids over to our house on the weekend so you have time to yourself. They are welcome any and all Sundays.” Or, “What would be more helpful, if I bring over dinner every Friday or take your dog…