How to Write a Letter of Condolence

By Kathy Megyeri

Last week, I sent three condolence cards with letters. At my age, I anticipate sending even more as I am losing family members and friends in greater numbers.

I have often wondered if I am writing the most heartfelt words and saying what the recipient needs and wants to read so, I recently consulted an article by Malia Woolan, published in the New York Times Magazine, offering tips to write a meaningful condolence letter.

This is what I learned:

• Write a personalized card or letter, not an email
or text message. If you know the person well, don’t
post your sympathies on Facebook. A tangible note
is more thoughtful and considerate.

• Don’t avoid the issue of death or grief by not
referring to the person’s passing. Instead, try to
include a special, touching or humorous memory in
your letter.

• Avoid platitudes like “it was for the best
or “she’s in a better place.” Let the grieving
draw their own conclusions. Simple, straightforward
phrases like “I’m so sorry,” are in better taste. One
of the most moving letters that Jacqueline Kennedy
received following the death of her husband came
from a 9-year-old boy who wrote, “I give you my
deepest sympathy, which I know will not help much,
but you may have all I have to give.”

• Don’t tell the bereaved to call if they need
anything because they won’t. Instead, be specific
about something you can do like delivering a meal,
taking the grieving person out, walking the family’s
dog, or sending a contribution to the beloved’s
favorite cause.

• Often the most challenging time for the person
in mourning is the loneliness that sets in after the
funeral when the casseroles, the letters, and the
well wishers are gone. So, commemorate the loved one
on the first anniversary of his or her death. That’s when a note
of remembrance means even more because it says,
When life has gone on and many have forgotten, I
still remember, I still care, and I am thinking of you
now, but even more, I am honoring the person we
all lost.”

Hopefully, this makes you feel more confident about offering condolences to the grief-stricken. In these difficult times, I think it behooves all of us to reach out a little more to demonstrate compassion, caring, and love for our fellow man, especially when hearts are broken, loved ones are gone, and family members and friends are scattered. A warm and supportive condolence card or letter may be the closest thing to a hug or the touch of a hand that we can offer.
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