It’s difficult to see our friends in pain. When our loved ones experience a loss, it’s normal to feel a deep sadness or helplessness, even if we didn’t know the deceased personally. Whether we empathize with their grief or sympathize with their pain, our loved ones need our support now more than ever. 

Each of us processes grief differently. While one friend may prefer constant communication, others need space to work through their feelings. Although there’s an overwhelming desire to help our loved ones when they’re hurting, we can’t always know what they need. The pressure to find the right words at the right time sometimes feels insurmountable, making an already complicated situation even harder to navigate.

Often, the worst thing we can do during this time of sorrow is nothing at all. It’s extremely common to feel anxious about saying or doing the wrong thing, but even small gestures can help our loved ones find healing during their grieving process.

Condolence cards are a heartfelt way to share our support without demanding our grieving loved one’s time or attention. If you’re unfamiliar with sympathy notes or unsure of what you should include, we’ve provided a brief guide to sympathy notes alongside other ways you can show how much you care. 

Why Sympathy Cards Work

Sympathy cards have been a means for expressing condolences for a long time. This classic way of encouraging its recipient has key benefits. 

First, a sympathy card allows an appropriate way to get an important message across during a challenging time. When someone you know experiences loss, like the loss of a pet, grandmother, grandfather, loss of a spouse, or loss of a mother, their entire life is turned upside down. Not only is the journey itself of understanding what life is after the loss very difficult, but there’s a flurry of activity that takes place around it. 

Funerals, finances, receptions, wakes, and viewings are all just part of the process of dealing with end-of-life events. When this is going on, it can be important to give your friend or loved one space to process and not feel overwhelmed during their sad time following the loss of life of a great person.

On top of all of that, they are going to be dealing with several messages of heartfelt sympathy coming their way. This can translate into a lot of information to take in during a short period of time. The benefit of a sympathy card is that it can hold its value as a way to offer your deepest condolences and be accessible at a later time. 

The gift itself is a very valuable one and one that shows care and love however the message inside can be read at a later date. 

Don’t Stress About It

The first step to take in writing a sympathy card is to not stress. All of these insecurities around writing a sympathy message and sending your heartfelt condolences can creep up on you and leave you staring at the blank note space of your card. Don’t let that happen. 

Remind yourself that you matter and that your friend needs to hear from you during this time of grief. In the end, there’s always a chance that you may say the wrong thing or maybe not say the right one. However, the important thing is that you show your support, send some prayers or inspiration, share your caring thoughts, or otherwise offer hugs and comfort during the grieving process. The person who is grieving will appreciate the fact that your card helped make them feel loved and supported and that’s what you should focus on. 

Keep It Brief

When we feel passionate about something it is easy to spend too much time elaborating on your deepest sympathy. If this card is meant for a friend that you love dearly, it may seem hard to keep any message to them brief. The temptation to express your sadness for them and their situation in your condolence messages is a very valid thing, but acting it out may not have the results you desired. 

The person receiving your sympathy card will have a lot to process and a lot to think about. Chances are they will also be experiencing a certain level of fatigue from the experience of the loss. Making your sympathy card message short and easy to consume will be a powerful way to encourage them after the loss of a beautiful soul. 

Send More Than One Card

If you feel like you have more to say or you don’t feel like you can personally be satisfied with sending a shorter message, then break up your messages or sympathy gifts over time. The process for experiencing loss is different for every person, however, it always represents a journey that takes place over a lifetime. Set a date on your calendar that will remind you to send another sympathy card in the future and thus continue to support them through a thoughtful gesture. 

In fact, sending a friend a sympathy card at a time where most people will have stopped reaching out their condolences may help to encourage them that their pain is not forgotten.  

Be Personal and Warm

Just because you are sending a shorter message doesn’t mean that you have to send a cold one. In fact, sending a message that reminds them of your love and connection could be a warm light on their path to understanding the loss in their life. Pull from your relationship’s loving memories and remind them of their strength and endurance. 

Stay Away From Affirming the Future and Stick to the Present

When you are writing a sympathy card, try your best to stay away from affirmations about the future. These phrases can sometimes diminish the present struggles or seem dismissive of the pain that the person receiving them is experiencing. 

For instance, do not use phrases like: “It’s all going to be alright,” or “Don’t worry, this will get better”. It’s normal to want to help them see that over time they will find healing, but that fact is more obvious to you because you are not in the midst of the pain. 

When someone is suffering from grief or loss, they are much more interested in being encouraged in their current pain than in being told when it will end. A better way to support and love those through a sympathy card is to affirm your love and support for them in the present and express your acceptance of them. 

Be Yourself

This is a really important part of writing an effective sympathy card. If you think about the purpose of a sympathy card, it does more than just check the box on a formality. It’s a tangible way of showing your love and support to someone who is suffering from loss. 

When someone experiences loss in their life they can often feel unsettled. A person that they would rather have not said goodbye to has not left their lives and they are thrust into the journey of understanding life without them. When this happens, reassuring your loved one or friend that you have not changed and are still there for them can be a great comfort.

So be bold and put your own signature spin on your sympathy card. That may be an inside piece of information like a nickname, or a memory shared between them. It may also translate into the physical properties of the card itself. Picking out their favorite color, or adding a little personalizing touch like maybe their favorite flower or poem. Small, thoughtful expressions like this can go a long way to help show love and support. 

Be Available

Lastly, be available to offer support in any way that you can. You can help them with chores around the house or even just get them some of their favorite foods. If you know that your loved one is going to have a crazy couple of days, slipping some gift cards for their favorite coffee shop or restaurant into their sympathy card could be a great practical gift. 

The most important thing to remember is that your friend is grieving and your love and support matter. A sympathy note is an opportunity to share your love for your friend, acknowledge their heartbreak, and help them celebrate their deceased love one’s remarkable life. Write from the heart, don’t be afraid to make it personal to them, and show them you support them and accept them on this new journey in life. 


Words of Condolence | The Spruce 

Ways to Express Sympathy | University of Colorado 

Grief: Coping with reminders after a loss | Mayo Clinic