It’s happened to all of us. That moment where you keep staring at the blank space in a sympathy card or letter where you are supposed to be putting words of encouragement, prayers, comfort, and support but you just can not seem to make it happen. After a while, you get discouraged and you either take a break and walk away from it, or you write something you aren’t too happy about. 

A short phrase of common sympathy, deepest condolences, or heartfelt sympathy, or some socially acceptable adage comes to mind and you put that down but it leaves you feeling unsatisfied. In truth, writing words of sympathy to a loved one or a close friend in their time of need is a challenging thing to do. Here are some of our recommendations on what words of sympathy are most impactful and how to craft a sympathy message that you can be confident in during your loved one’s time of sorrow.

pink rose lies on a pink envelope

First Off, Understand What You Are Feeling

One of the hardest parts of writing a sympathy message for someone you care about who is experiencing loss is understanding your own place in that difficult time of sadness. For many of us, we can not spend any time thinking about ourselves when it comes to trying to do this. We are not the ones who are experiencing the loss so why would we take time to process how this is affecting us? We need to be there for our loved one, our friend who is hurting.

But let’s take a step back and just get our bearings. 

It’s Normal To Feel Lost for Words

When someone that we love goes through loss and is hurting, it’s a normal experience to also feel a certain sense of loss and hurt. True, you didn’t lose a loved one or a close friend, but in a lot of ways, you are losing the joy from the person you care about who did. 

When we love someone deeply we hate to see that person experience pain of any kind. When your friend is experiencing grief, it can be not only a confusing and trying journey for them but for you as well. 

How can you help? 

What can you do to make things better? 

How do you cope with the fact that you feel helpless to help them?

Taking inventory of these questions and realizations will help you to develop a realistic expectation for yourself that will in turn allow you to better love and support your friend’s grief. 

Loss Is Unique to Every Person

Another important thing to be aware of is that everyone experiences loss differently. We are all in some way or another learning how to deal with loss throughout our entire lifetime. Every journey of life will have to face an end and from the time that we first learn about death to the moment we will ultimately experience it we are in some ways preparing. 

It’s very common to feel like you aren’t ready to deal with the repercussions of death. Especially when you lose someone unexpectedly. So when your close friend experiences loss it’s normal to feel like you don’t understand them or that they become distant. The grief process is deeply personal and they most likely won’t have the capacity to help you understand where they are at or what they are going through during certain points of that journey. 

Asian woman cries, presses hand to window

Feelings of Helplessness Are a Lie

We say all of this to conclude that it is normal to feel like you can bring very little good or impact to a situation like the grief of a friend. However, just because these feelings may be validly experienced it does not mean that there is validity in believing or acting on them. When your loved one is walking through a loss they need your support and encouragement more than ever—it just may not look like what you would expect. 

Space and time are powerful tools for those who are hurting to help them heal. As hard as it is to give these to the people you love, it can be for their best at times. However, that’s where the power of a sympathy message  and heartfelt condolences can really come into play. It’s a safe, acceptable way to communicate your support and love during a time of grief and leave yourself open and available for the needs of the grieving family or individual. 

Most people who are experiencing grief from loss will be on a journey that stretches far into their lives, friendships, and relationships. This long process of learning how to live without the people that shaped your life previously is a long one so being there for your loved one long term is a powerful way of loving them. A sympathy message can convey immediate acceptance, support, and space for a difficult today while leaving the door open for future support as well. 

Practical Ways To Craft Impactful Words of Sympathy

So now that we’ve covered some meaningful preliminary ground we can return to that blank canvas inside the condolence card or the handwritten letter that you are crafting. The person in your life who is experiencing loss needs to be loved, encouraged, and supported with sincere sympathies and this is a great tool to help accomplish just that. 

Keep It Short

Remember that this message will serve a purpose to show support and love in a safe, non-overbearing way. So, keep your sympathy note short and to the point. As much as you may want to pour out of your heart all of the care and compassion you have for your loved one, brevity is powerful in situations like this. 

That being said, it doesn’t have to be one line. Sympathy card messages that simply read “Sorry for your loss” to a close friend will have the potential to send the wrong message. If this person is a close friend who loves you, let them know that you care about them by writing something impactful that they can tell took effort. 

Don’t Be Afraid of Making It Personal

Pull from your relationship with this person in a personal way that reflects warmth and grace. Maybe recall an aspect of your relationship that enforces your love and makes it special. If you’ve known this person for a long time, pull on the span of your relationship with something like this: 

“We’ve known each other since the 6th grade and you’ve always been such a beautiful and inspiring friend. Know I’m here for you and love you so much. You have my number, reach out whenever you need to!”

This can provide a strong thought of comfort during a sad time.

close-up of brown hands holding mobile phone, texting

Refrain From Giving Advice

This is possibly one of the hardest parts of writing a sympathy message, especially if we have experienced a similar kind of loss. The desire to impact and help ‘fix’ a situation is a very normal desire and one that you can’t be faulted for feeling. However, when it comes to situations like grief, oftentimes there isn’t a situation that needs to be ‘fixed’. 

If you are having trouble crafting a message that doesn’t have direct advice in it, think back to your experience and what really helped you. Put yourself in your friend's shoes and remember the capacity you also had, or imagine it sympathetically if you can’t directly relate. Giving advice can come from the best of intentions but typically is lost on the person grieving and can even come off as an expectation amidst an already challenging situation. Instead, offer your caring thoughts, friendship, and maybe share some lovely memories of the deceased.

Be Yourself

This is also a very important aspect of crafting words of sympathy that are impactful. If love exists between you and the person in your life that is experiencing loss, then be confident in that love. That person loves you for your soul and who you are and right now being true to that will act as a powerful encouragement that they are supported in the loss of a mother or loss of a father, or the passing of another loved one. 

So craft your message using your own unique voice and way of communicating. Not what you think is appropriate but what you know is appropriate. This is not always a tool as sometimes we will write sympathy messages for people who don’t know too well. However, if you have the privilege of loving and encouraging a close friend or family member through loss, make it your own and take liberties to do so. 

The Most Important Aspect of Impactful Words

Lastly, the most important aspect of impactful words is that they are true! Genuinely think through your sentiment and don’t offer something that you either can’t deliver on or are at a loss for. 

For instance, the common phrase of “let me know if you need anything” is vague and daunting. The person you are talking to most likely will experience a great many ‘needs’ in the journey to come. In fact, it is common when grappling with loss to have so many needs that it’s hard to identify what you actually do need. So take time to think through how you could practically impact this person to make life easier for them tomorrow. 

That could look like a thoughtful sympathy gift along with your message or simply inviting them into a service that you specifically want to offer.


Sympathy Messages: What to Write in a Sympathy Card | Hallmark

20 Unique "With Deepest Sympathy" Messages | LoveToKnow

How To Write A Condolence Message: The Best Examples Of Condolences | Psych News Daily