How to write a sympathy card

This guide will explain why sympathy cards can help someone who has recently lost a loved one. It will also offer some inspiration for sympathy messages and sign-offs, including how to write your own.

A sympathy card is a special card, usually for the family, friends or loved ones of the person who’s died. It tends to include a short message of support.

Why do some people send sympathy cards?

Sympathy cards can help support the loved ones of the person who’s died

There are lots of reasons someone might find receiving a sympathy card helpful. These include:

  • Knowing they’re not alone in their feelings

  • Remembering they have people they can turn to for support, if they want it

  • Reliving happy memories of the person who’s died

  • Discovering new connections and feeling part of a wider community

Some people might prefer not to receive any sympathy cards. They may state this on the event listing or invitation to the funeral of the person who's died. It’s important to respect their wishes.

Often they'll ask you to make a donation to a particular charity instead of cards.

Who to send a sympathy card to

Who you send a sympathy card to will depend on your relationship to the person who’s died

People typically send a sympathy card to whoever they know that is closest to the person who’s died.

If you’re a family friend, you might address your card to their family. But if you know the person who’s died via a mutual friend, you might send a card just to that friend.

Sometimes, this can be hard to judge, especially if you had a complex relationship with the person who’s died. But there’s no single right answer. You can send a card to whoever feels right or send several cards to different people. You do not need to send a card if you do not want to.

If you know the person who’s died, but not their loved ones, you might send a card to the people organising the funeral, wake or other end-of-life event. In this case, you could add a note explaining your connection.

When to send a sympathy card

You can take as long as you need to write and send a sympathy card. 

Traditionally, people send sympathy cards within two weeks of the person dying. But it’s important to think about what’s right for you. You might not feel ready to send a sympathy card within the traditional two-week window.

Some people worry that sending a sympathy card too late will come across as rude, or that they’ll ‘remind’ the person receiving it of their loss.  But there is no strict cut-off for sending a sympathy card. Most people will appreciate a sympathy card, regardless of how long has passed since their loved one died.

Similarly, it’s important to think about the person receiving the card. Some people might find that immediately receiving lots of cards makes them feel supported. Others might find it overwhelming.

What’s important is that you move at your own pace, and at a pace that suits the person you’re sending the card to.

Here’s one I made earlier...

You can find sympathy cards in most supermarkets and stationers. But if you’d prefer, you could use a website like Etsy or NotOnTheHighStreet to buy from an independent artist, or even make the card yourself.

Structuring a sympathy card

Your sympathy message could be very personal, or it might be more generic

What you write in your sympathy card will depend on who you are writing it for, and how well you know the person who’s died.

There are lots of common sympathy messages that you can use

Common sympathy messages include:

  • “We are so sorry for your loss.”

  • “With deepest sympathy.”

  • “My thoughts are with you and your loved ones. Let us know if you need anything.”

  • “Thinking of you as you celebrate [NAME’s] life.”

  • “Wishing you and your loved ones all the best”

You can either use them as they are, or change them to match your own style and tone of voice. 

Some people might want to write a more personal message, especially if they’re very close to the person who’s died

If you do want to write a personal message, simple and honest messages tend to go down well. Remember that you do not need to express everything you’re feeling in one card.

Some people find writing a personal message helps them to express their feelings. But it’s also important to think about the person who’s receiving the card.

It’s usually best to avoid:

  • Assuming you understand how they’re feeling

  • Encouraging them to see the positives

  • Asking questions about the Will or inheritance

  • Telling them what you think they should do for end-of-life plans

Specific phrases to avoid include:

  • “I know how you feel”

  • “Everything happens for a reason”

  • “Keep your chin up”

  • “They’re in a better place now”

You do not have to write a personal message if you do not want to. You also do not need to apologise for sending an especially long or short message.

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When signing off a sympathy card, you can keep it simple

You might choose to use a special sign-off for sympathy cards. But you can also sign off like you would on any other card.

Some common sign-offs include:

  • “With love”

  • “Lots of love”

  • “Thinking of you”

  • “With our deepest condolences”

  • “With deepest sympathy”

  • “Warm regards”

There is no right or wrong way to write a sympathy card

Some people worry about saying the wrong thing or not being able to put their feelings into words.

It’s important to remember that your sympathy card does not need to be word-perfect. As long as you’re being respectful, the person receiving the card will usually be glad that you’re thinking of them.

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