A blank pad of paper with a pen resting on top.
Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

How to write a personal condolence letter

Knowing what to write in a condolence card or letter can feel difficult. Our expert guide explains how to write something heartfelt, without using clichés or empty phrases.

To help you find the right words, follow our expert advice on how to write a personal condolence message.

What was your relationship with the person who died?


‘The tone of the letter and what you want to say will depend on how well you know both the bereaved person and the person who died,’ says Charlotte Haigh, a funeral celebrant and soul midwife. But even if you were good friends – rather than work colleagues or neighbours, for example – it can be tricky finding the right words to say.

There are a few general points to follow when writing a condolence letter or sympathy card:

• Write it by hand. ‘We rely so much on text and email but there’s something very special about getting a handwritten letter in the post,’ says Charlotte. It feels a lot more personal than if you just typed it out.

• Keep it quite short. Experiencing a bereavement can be overwhelming, so don’t write pages and pages they will need to read through. ‘A brief, sincere condolence message to a friend can be beautiful,’ Charlotte says.

• Don’t expect an instant reply. There’s a lot to do after someone has died, such as arranging the funeral or scattering the ashes, so the bereaved person may be too busy to reply straight away. Be aware that they might not reply at all, as they may not be in the right frame of mind.

The dos and don’ts of a condolence letter


Before putting pen to paper, take a while to think about what you want to say – and what you should avoid saying.

DO

Use their name – you may want to avoid using the name of the person who’s died to prevent the bereaved getting upset, but it’s usually comforting for them to hear their loved one’s name.

Keep it simple and heartfelt – starting the letter can be the most difficult part, but ‘simply saying “I’m so sorry to hear about [their name] and I want you to know I’m thinking about you” is a good way to start,’ says Charlotte.

Share a special memory – if you were good friends with the person who died, share one or two stories that their family or partner may not know about them. ‘This gives them a fuller picture of their loved one,’ Charlotte says, ‘and shows how important they were to others.’ For an extra touch, you could include some photos they may not have seen before.

Offer some practical help – instead of saying ‘Let me know if you need anything’, be specific: offer to take the kids once a week, do a big shop or meet up every weekend for a coffee.

DON’T

Offer platitudes or clichés - expressions like ‘they had a good innings’ or ‘things happen for a reason’ are rarely comforting or helpful when someone is grieving.

Overshadow their emotions – it’s natural to feel upset when someone you care about dies, but avoid using words like ‘heartbroken’ or ‘crushed’. This letter is meant to comfort the bereaved, not make them worry about you.

Use overly religious images or language – ‘Unless the deceased was part of your faith community, and it would be appropriate, don’t push your beliefs about death, the afterlife or spirituality,’ advises Charlotte. Keep it neutral.

Sign off with formal language – it can be tempting to finish your condolence letter with phrases like ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘fondly’ but keep it personal. You could repeat the fact that you miss the person who has died and are thinking of their family.

You may prefer to write a short sympathy card or send a note with flowers instead. But, however you choose to remember the person who died, you don’t have to do it alone. See our guides on bereavement support if asking for help would be useful.


Example of a condolence letter

It can be difficult to find the right words to say, so we've created an example of a condolence letter to help you write your own.

Dear Mary,

I’m so sorry to hear about John and I want you to know I’m thinking about you and the children.

I have so many special memories of John and was thinking today about the holiday we spent together in Majorca. It will always make me smile to think about John dancing the flamenco at the Spanish night we visited, he was always first on the dancefloor! I have included a photo of John from our holiday which I thought you would like to keep.

I want you to know that I am here for you and would very much like to start cutting the lawn for you every fortnight. I am free on Sunday afternoons if that is a suitable time for you too?

Once again, I am so sorry and will miss John very much.

Thinking about you and the children,

Luke