Sympathy Message Writing Etiquette

15 Feb

Writing a well-constructed sympathy message is arguably one of the most scary tasks a person can engage in. Finding the precise words, making use of the appropriate voice, whilst making sure that deepest and sincere compassion are distinctly expressed into each word.

And there’s the big question that always crop up – whether you should send your sympathy letter or not at all. Let us admit it, composing alone is quite inundating, but anticipating the response of the grieving person or the deceased’s family over it can often bring about a bit of restlessness, even if unjustified. Some people are doubtful especially if the relationship is marginal, i.e. business acquaintances, so the question continues to remain. Is it necessary to send a sympathy letter? Is it socially important? Yes to both but not mandatory, however it will make you feel good if you do so because it means you care, aware about the pain of someone else’s, and you want to extend sympathy and show support to someone who is grieving over a loss. It is not in any way insincere if you do what your gut says is the right thing to do. Nonetheless just a caution, do not ever do it if you feel coerced or it is something you detest doing.

With regard to the content of your sympathy message, it will vary depending on your connection and knowledge of the deceased or the closest person or family who had lost a loved one. To whatever degree, always stay pleasant and if you are not familiar with the deceased but wish to merely extend your sympathies, then inform them yourself.  Simply put, expressing your sincere sympathy can be a source of comfort and support to someone overwhelmed by sadness and grief, albeit short-lived.

Below is a simple 5-step guide that you can abide by when writing your sympathy message. It will not take a rocket scientist to comprehend the steps, just listen to what your heart says and you will do fine.

1. Acknowledge the loss.

2. Offer your sincere sympathy.

3. Describe exceptional qualities of the deceased or recount memorable encounters.

4. Offer assistance aptly.

5. Close your sympathy message with thoughtful words.

Here’s one examples of sympathy messages:

My dear Eliza,

I am deeply saddened when I learned about the death our beloved Sally. Our hearts go out to you and your family.

Sally had been a wonderful friend to me and Joe and we will always remember her laughter, compassion, and wherever she is right now, we will forever be grateful to her. Sally was our rock, she took care of our kids when Joe met an accident, it was the most traumatic and difficult time of our lives but her continued presence and support then kept us from giving up. We will miss her terribly, and no words can express our sorrow.

All our thoughts and love are with you now and always.


Marissa and Joe

There also several issues that are important to keep in mind so as not to fall into the trap of being taken out of context, misconstrued, or misjudged.


-Be prompt. Send your sympathy message as soon as possible.

-Cite the name of the person who died if you are close and in first name basis. If not, use the full name and add a reference to yourself, e.g. Joe’s co-worker, next to your signature.

-If you did not personally know the person who died, but a friend does, you can relay your message to your friend instead of the deceased’s family.

-Make your message brief, but personal. Understandably, the grieving party may not be able to give 100 percent concentration to your message, so do not make it too long or long winded.

-Handwrite your sympathy message and ensure your writing is clear and readable. If you have to type it, sign the printed copy using your own handwriting.

-If you will offer help, be specific on what it is.

-Although electronic communication like email has become common, it is still prudent to send your message in a regular way – mail it.

-If you elect to send a card that truly reflects the message you want to impart, do not forget to sign it and add a little personal note.

-Some people find poems or quotations, soothing. Choose the appropriate addition to your sympathy message.

-If you have momentos like photos, that can alleviate the burden of grief, include it on your sympathy message.


-Do not offer help when it is not attainable.

-As much as possible, avoid mentioning accounts of your own loss so as not to veer from the mourning person’s loss and pain.

-Never advise. Never give personal advice because the capacity of grief and coping of each individual differs from one another.

-Do not make it appear as if the death is positive. For instance saying, “Let us be glad he did not suffer”.

It is very important to understand that good manners is imperative when writing a sympathy message, so do not forget the Do’s and Don’ts. And remember, your main priority is the recipient and sympathizing in the time of grief.


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