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Let’s talk about how to write a condolence letter. Have you ever written a condolence letter? I sure haven’t. It’s a lost art.
But, like many things that have gone by the wayside in our modern age, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor. When you personally write to someone who has lost a loved one, it shows that extra touch of care and compassion.
If you’re thinking about writing a condolence letter and you just don’t know how, you’ve come to the right place. First of all, I commend you for wanting to do this. Your letter will be saved and re-read long after all the store-bought cards are discarded. Second, I’ve gleaned some tips and would like to share them with you.
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7 Tips on How to Write a Condolence Letter
Here are seven simple steps to help you write a beautiful and meaningful condolence letter:
- Acknowledge the loss.
- Convey your sympathy.
- Mention the special qualities of the deceased.
- Recall a specific memory of the deceased.
- Remind the bereaved of his or her own personal strengths.
- Offer specific assistance.
- End with a thoughtful phrase.
This advice was adapted from Leonard M. Zunin and Hilary Stanton Zunin’s helpful book, The Art of Condolence: What to Write, What to Say, What to Do at a Time of Loss.
1. Acknowledge the Loss
Assuming that you didn’t hear the news from the person you’re writing to, you should begin by explaining how you learned about the death and expressing your dismay.
“I was heartbroken when I heard from Bill last night about your father’s death.”
2. Convey your sympathy
In sincere, straightforward language, offer your sympathy and emotional support.
“No words can adequately express my sadness, but I want you to know that my thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time.”
3. Mention the decedent’s special qualities
If you knew the deceased well, describe the traits you most admired in him or her. These are general traits, things like: Hardworking, compassionate, funny, generous, faithful, reliable, courageous, tenderhearted, gentle, good with kids or animals or solving problems, etc.
“Your father was not only an exceptionally generous and warmhearted man but one of the happiest I’ve ever known. He never seemed to lose his capacity to enjoy the small, simple pleasures of life.”
4. Recall a specific memory
If possible, relate an anecdote that evokes the special qualities of the person. This can be a specific memory or a general period in the decedent’s life that impacted you in some way.
“I remember walking through the town park just a few months ago and seeing him in the playground with his granddaughter Suzie. They were together on the seesaw and, from the look on their faces, it was hard to tell who was having more fun, the seven-year-old girl or her seventy-year-old grandpa.”
5. Remind the bereaved person of their own personal strengths
The death of a loved one can render a person so emotionally fragile and profoundly insecure. Often a few reassuring words can have a rich and deep impact in bolstering the bereaved’s sense of self-worth. In your condolence letter, be sure to remind the mourner of their own strength and resilience.
“From personal experience, I know how hard it is to lose a father. But I also know that, like your father, you are a person of great inner strength and resilience and that these qualities will help see you through this difficult time.”
6. Offer assistance
People in the early stages of grief can always use a little help dealing with the daily demands of life. Simple tasks like cooking, cleaning, errand running, and so on can become overwhelming. This is an opportunity for you to reach out and help in a very practical way.
If you are ready and willing to assist in specific ways, say so. Generalized offers – “If I can help out in any way, let me know” – are much less effective and tend to ring a little hollow. Rather, offer to pick up groceries, clean the house, mow the yard, or babysit the kids.
“As someone who cares deeply about you and your family, I hope you’ll allow me to help out in the coming weeks. I’ll call in a few days to see if there’s anything I can do. I was thinking I could babysit the kids and while I’m there I can help weed your lovely garden – that’s something I would enjoy doing for you!”
7. Close with a thoughtful phrase
The conventional sign-offs are perfectly fine – “sincerely,” “best wishes,” “yours truly,” “warmly,” or the like – but to add in a special note of care and affection, conclude your condolence letter with a final, heartfelt phrase.
“You know you have my deepest sympathy and my friendship always.”
I hope that these tips have helped you learn how to write a condolence letter. If you take some or all of this advice to heart and combine it with genuine love and sympathy for your grieving friend, you will do just fine.