When someone you know loses a close friend or relative, it is traditional to write them a letter of condolence expressing your sympathies. However, if you don’t feel it would be appropriate to send them a fully-fledged letter of condolence, nowadays you can send a much shorter message inside a sympathy card instead. If you are unsure if this is the right thing to do or not, the following guide should prove useful.
Sympathy card or letter of condolence?
If you want to send someone who has recently been bereaved a message expressing your support for them then you are likely to follow one of these two options. Above all, you want to make sure you do the right thing, but as there are no real guidelines explaining which one would be more appropriate in a given situation, it can be difficult to know what that is.
The real differences between the two options are their length and level of detail. A letter of condolence is likely to be at least a page in length, typed or handwritten, and offer some slightly more detailed help and advice, perhaps including reminiscences of the person who has died. By contrast, a sympathy card will usually only have room for a short message of goodwill, so sympathy cards generally work best if you don’t know the person who has been bereaved particularly well, but you still want them to know that they are in your thoughts.
How to choose a sympathy card
Again, you are likely to feel a certain pressure to choose the right option, and not send something that ends up causing offence, or which doesn’t strike quite the right note. Any greetings card store is likely to offer a wide selection of sympathy or bereavement cards, making the choice all the more bewildering.
You can simply go for a plain card which has a attractive picture on the front of it, even if it has nothing specifically to do with bereavement, and write your own message inside.
Alternatively, you should have the choice of a wide variety of dedicated bereavement cards which contain messages of various lengths, all the way from simple “thinking of you”-type statements to quite complex pieces of poetry and written mementoes. Again, what you choose should be informed by how well you know the person who will be reading it; if you know they enjoy poetry and think you’ve found a more complex card which would be meaningful to them, then go ahead; but if you don’t, then a much simpler message can still go a long way.
What should I write inside?
As with everything else in this process, you should be informed by how well you know the recipient. However, there are two good points to bear in mind whatever your relationship with them is: 1) a short but heartfelt message can still be very effective; and 2) in a sense, what you write doesn’t matter – the point of a sympathy card is that it shows you are thinking about the person who has been bereaved, so it is mostly a symbolic gesture anyway.
You just need to put something truthful. “I’m sorry for your loss” is the classic way of expressing your sympathy to someone who has been bereaved – and the person reading it will know you have taken their sorrows to your heart.