While at an art show with my custom-designed Bible verse stationery, I watched a couple look through my greeting cards. A man showed one of the cards to his wife and told her “We could use this as a sympathy card for John.” He then turned and asked me what was written on the inside.
“It’s blank on the inside,” I answered with a smile. I purposely leave my cards blank to allow people to personalize them. He froze and then returned the card to the display and hurriedly left my booth.
That was the moment I realized that people need help writing sympathy cards. In the face of loss and grief, many of us find ourselves unsure of what to say. We mean well and we do want to provide comfort but, like the gentleman in my booth, we freeze.
Deciding what to write in a sympathy card depends on two relationships: our relationship to the deceased and our relationship to the card recipient. How close we are to those two people determines what we should write.
Let’s take for example, that someone you know well has died, but you don’t know their loved one very well. Sending a sympathy card to a person you don’t know well can especially be challenging. You might wonder if you should even bother reaching out considering you are a stranger to the bereaved. I would encourage you to make the effort to do so. Your specific relationship to their loved one is unique and different from the one they had. Hearing stories from other areas of their life gives them the gift of knowing and understanding their loved one even better.
There are many scenarios where you might know a person well but haven’t had a chance to meet their family:
• a friend whose hometown is far away
• a co-worker
• a fellow member of a club, organization, or team
• a fellow student
In each of the examples listed above, you’ve seen a side of the person that their family would not ever have seen. You know them as a professional, as a roommate, or as a teammate. Your relationship with the person was unique.
Since you don’t personally know the sympathy card recipient, you will need to introduce yourself and state how you know the person. For example, you might write, “My name is ____ and I was lucky enough to work with (deceased) at (name of employer).”
Then you can include a brief anecdote, such as, “You may not know this about your (dad, aunt, cousin) but he/she won several awards for stellar customer service. I learned a great deal from watching him/her throughout the seven years we worked together. He/she was my trainer when I first joined the team, patiently teaching me the ropes. I will always be grateful to him/her for that kindness.
Things you might share:
• What you learned from the person
• What you’ll always remember about the person
• A specific story or memory
Last, close with a brief expression of condolence such as, “Please know that I am thinking about you.”
Your words and memories are a gift to the family members who are mourning. Please don’t hesitate to share them.
Would you like more help writing sympathy cards?
I’ve recently published a guide to writing sympathy cards that walks you through what to say in each relationship scenario. I provide helpful phrases and advice on what to write. The guide also discusses how to provide ongoing care for the grieving. Download your free copy of Guide to Writing Sympathy Cards: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say at PowerAndPeaceDesign.com/FreeSympathyCardGuide.
About the Author: Amanda Bridle is the artist behind Power and Peace Design, a small business offering bright, colorful, and modern Bible verse art and stationery. She believes that everyone can discover power and peace within the Word of God. An advocate for the ministry of mail, Amanda offers card writing workshops and shares writing prompts and tips on Instagram and Facebook. Amanda lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, three children, and an orange tabby with a sweet tooth.