Q. What type of stationery is appropriate for condolence notes? Is a printed condolence card the best idea?
A. A correspondence card, whether imprinted with your name or not, is the perfect stationery for a condolence note. A correspondence card offers at least three advantages. The stock has weight, which somehow adds weight to your message. Due to its size (usually 6-1/4”x4-1/2”), a correspondence card also limits how much you can say. A few lines can fill the space. In addition, you can keep correspondence cards on hand to use for a variety of other situations. These cards are ideal for thank-you notes, or birthday or other greetings in a pinch, as long as you choose an appropriate ink and paper color and a design (if there is one) that’s sedate. For example, don’t use a card with a red border or a polka dot motif to express words of sympathy. But dark blue or green ink works, as does a simple, quiet floral design.
Keep a box of correspondence cards in your drawer, and you’re always equipped without having to make a special trip to the store. If you wish, you can also use a half sheet, folded once for business-related condolences. Women can use small informal fold-over notes. Write in blue or black ink, regardless of the stationery you choose.
Many people send printed store-bought condolence cards. If this is your preference, don’t simply sign your name. Instead, add a handwritten line or two to personalize the card. You don’t have to be poetic. Just write, “Dear---, I’m thinking of you at this sad time,” or “Dear ---, I remember all the times you talked about ---. I send my deepest sympathy.” A few brief but sincere words mean a whole lot. It’s neither necessary nor appropriate to write a very long message unless you knew the deceased (or know the mourner) very well. What could you possibly have to say?
When selecting a printed sympathy card, do keep the recipient clearly in mind, and remember that you want to make a connection. Some cards can be very “flowery.” Is the mourner likely to respond to such language? And avoid choosing a card with a religious message unless you are very certain the bereaved is religious. If not, the person may not welcome the words. In general, you’re always safest with a card containing a few simple lines.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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