Sympathy notes are not easy to write; it’s difficult to know what you can possibly say to comfort someone who is so profoundly sad. And yet we work hard to write them knowing how important it is to acknowledge a loss and comfort the bereaved.

Despite our efforts to send condolences, it might be a shock to learn that a note may not be enough; the bereaved need more than sympathy notes in the weeks and months ahead to feel supported while they grieve.

A neighbor was surprised to hear this. His cousin was widowed and he and his wife wrote a sympathy note and made a donation in memory of the deceased; they thought their job was done. My neighbor told his wife, “I think we should give my cousin a call.” He beamed when he reported back that his cousin sounded dreadful when she answered the phone but, her tone became uplifted when she heard his voice. He could not believe that one phone call made such a difference in his cousin’s mood and day.

Just as hard as it may be to know what to say in a sympathy note, it can be daunting to think of what you might say in a phone call or any other form of communication. The most important thing to convey is that you are thinking of them.  It can be as simple as: “I’m thinking of you today and wanted to check in and say hello.” It is then your turn to be silent and let the bereaved speak. If endings are awkward stick to the basics: “I’m so glad we had this chance to connect. I’ll keep in touch.” And then please do.

In the weeks and months following a death it is important to keep in touch; those grieving a loss feel comforted knowing they and their loved one are not forgotten. While phone calls are welcome, communications can take the form of written notes, emails or text messages. Just find a vehicle you are comfortable with and stick with it. Take solace in knowing your efforts make a real difference. 


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. <a href="" rel="nofollow"

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Comment by Mark Moran on July 28, 2014 at 11:49am

Grief Counseling

Many times, in these notes, you can write the wrong thing as well.  For example, telling the bereaved, the person is in a better place can sometimes cause many issues.  The best thing to say is I am sorry for what has happened, how can I help?  Good intentioned phrases that we commonly use can sometimes cause internal grief for the very person we are helping.

Excellent article on sympathy letters!

Mark Moran, MA

Grief Counseling with AIHCP

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