How to write a sympathy card

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How to write a sympathy card
Joyce Good Henderson

Grieving can be a confusing and overwhelming time for the mourner and for friends and family trying to be supportive. Grieving involves so many different emotions: sadness, loss, guilt, emptiness. It's often hard to know what to write in a sympathy card and find the right words to provide comfort.

A thoughtful card or personal note can go a long way to show your concern. Be sensitive about the words you use and the pre-printed message of the card. Keep both the card and your sentiments short and simple. Later, you might want to share personal memories or stories about the person who has died, but your initial contact should be simple. Write a phrase such as, 'I'm thinking of you,' or 'You are in my thoughts and prayers,' or even 'I'm here if you need me.'

Your card should convey a message that:
  • Lets them know how much you care.
  • Affirms that they have done their best.
  • Invites them to talk about their feelings when they are ready.
What to avoid saying:
  • 'I know how you feel.'
  • 'You should _____.”
  • 'Time heals all wounds.'
  • 'At least he's no longer in pain.'
  • 'She's in a better place now.'
  • 'It was God's timing/will.'
  • 'Oh, it's not that bad.'
  • 'You'll be okay.'
  • 'Things will get back to normal before you know it.'

Each person must grieve at his or her own pace. The process does not occur in a step-by-step logical, orderly fashion. There will be ups and downs. Do not try to 'fix' someone's grief by telling him how to mourn. Do not frame his grief in your own experiences. Grief is whatever a person says it is. Provide support and be willing to listen.

Recognize that life has changed forever in the loss of a loved one. Encourage the grieving person by respecting personal beliefs, and listen to his or her feelings, without making judgments. Do not try to change someone's beliefs or feelings.

Tips to follow when someone is grieving:
  1. Don't try to avoid sending a card because you feel uncomfortable.
  2. Don't pry into personal matters, such as the circumstances of the death.
  3. Don't offer unsolicited advice or easy solutions; the grieving process will follow its own individual course.
  4. You can make grieving easier by making specific offers, such as, 'I'm going to the store. What can I bring you?' or 'I've made lasagna for dinner. When can I drop by and bring you some?' Or you may suggest, 'Let me know what I can do,' and allow the grieving person to get back to you with her needs.