What To Write In A Sympathy Card For Someone Who is Grieving

Four grief experts offer their advice on the best thing to write in a sympathy card.

What To Write In A Sympathy Card When There Are No Words

Losing someone close to you is the most difficult thing a person can go through in life. Whether it's a friend, a parent, a child, or someone else, the death of a loved one is a heartbreaking and emotional time.

If you know someone going through a grieving period, it’s likely that you want to help by offering up words of comfort. But thinking about what to write in a sympathy card can be very hard. You may think, what is a good sympathy message? What can I write in a sympathy card when there are no words? What can I say that isn’t “sorry for your loss”? With all these thoughts running through your head, it will feel impossible to put pen to paper.

It may help to know that you are not the only one who struggles with what to write in a sympathy card. As Iman Gatti, a certified grief recovery specialist, points out, “Although grief is universal and everyone on the planet experiences it, knowing what to say and how to support someone in grief, is something many people struggle with.”

Jacqui Gunn, the founder of the charity Talking About Loss, says something similar. Speaking about the UK specifically, she says, “I have found as a nation people really don’t know what to say. They feel awkward, not wanting to upset you or make you cry.”

With this in mind, I asked Gatti and Gunn – along with two other grief experts – for their guidance on what to write in a sympathy card.

‘‘My favourite memories of them are...’’

According to Sarah Jones, the director of the holistic funeral business Full Circle Funerals, “A great approach to a sympathy message is to share a memory of the person who has died. You might also share how that makes you feel. Many people tell me that they really love to hear new tales about someone after they have died – it feels positive and helps them feel connected to the person who has died.”

“May [insert memory] bring you peace and comfort at this difficult time”

Alternatively, reminding grievers of the happy memories they have of that person may bring them comfort also.

‘‘I am just one call away if you need anything’’

The last thing you want your loved one to think is that they are alone with no support, right? So, stating in a condolences card you are there can help them in the grieving process.

Gunn says: “All too often I hear stories from people (and it has happened to me personally) that friends and associates will cross the road and pretend they haven’t seen you to avoid that awkward conversation.” Grief can be a lonely place so letting your loved one know you’re at the end of the phone is very important.

‘‘If you ever need help with [name specific task], let me know”

“After bereavement, people often receive a vast amount of offers of help but very few of them are specific,” Jones says. “When someone dies there is a huge amount to arrange and many new and bewildering decisions to navigate. Also working out how people might be able to help you is often a stretch too far so these offers.”

Similarly, Gatti suggests that – depending on how close you are to the griever – you may want to enclose some gift cards in your card so that you can at least have some of your meals provided during this incredibly painful time.

“I know [insert name] was incredibly special to you’’

Addressing the name of the person who died is very important so don’t shy away from using it in your sympathy card.

Speaking specifically about baby and infant loss, Lala Langtry White – an expert in this area – says: “If you know their baby or child's name then write it. Many people worry they will upset parents more by talking to them about their baby but the family will be thinking of their baby all the time.”

“This is such a challenging time and I’m sorry you’re having to go through it”

Jones suggests that you can “simply acknowledge and validate how [a griever] is feeling” by stating plainly what a difficult time it is for them.

“I will check in on you but please do not feel obligated to respond. I just want you to know you are supported and thought of”

This suggestion from Gatti shows a “genuine sentiment of support and care” while making clear that you do not expect anything in return. For some grievers, it is simply too difficult to talk or respond to anyone and it’s important to acknowledge that you are fine with whatever approach they need to take.

‘I’m struggling to find the words but please know I’m here for you”

If you really can’t find the words, then just say that. Jones says, “Sometimes the circumstances of a bereavement mean that no words feel like they are enough. I would urge you to still send the card, share a memory, and tell them that you don’t have the right words but you really care.”

Jones continues: “Tell them that you are thinking of them and if all else fails – draw a picture of a heart and tell them ‘I have no words’. If you have a photograph of the person who has died then you might send this instead – with a brief inscription on the back.”

‘‘With my most heartfelt love and thoughts’’

Langtry White suggests this as a good ending for a sympathy card. It is simple but effective, summing up everything you want to convey and leaving the griever feeling supported and loved.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the grieving process will not be linear and you will need to keep following up with your loved one to check they are OK. Langtry White suggests you continue to reach out with a simple ‘‘thinking of you’’ message and let them know you are always there to listen. She adds, “If you are close to the family, mark important days in your calendar,” including the person’s birthday and emotional days like Christmas and make sure to reach out to the griever if you feel they may need extra support.


Sarah Jones, director of Full Circle Funerals

Jacqui Gunn, founder of Talking About Loss

Lala Langtry White, Bereavement Doula

Iman Gatti, grief recovery specialist