What to Write in a Sympathy Card

Expressing our sadness and condolences to a friend or acquaintance after the loss of someone close to them can be daunting. Not only is it an emotional time for your recipient, but possibly for you too and finding the right words can seem difficult, if not, impossible. Sometimes, the fear of saying the wrong thing means we don’t end up saying anything at all.

However, a sincere, heartfelt message of condolence and support can make the difference during such a trying time. Knowing that someone else is thinking of you can help provide support and remind of the good, happy times that were shared - even long after they occurred.

To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to get you started with ideas of what to say in a sympathy card and how to say it – and what not to say to avoid causing upset or offence.

Why Send a Sympathy Card?

In the era of social media, direct messages and texts, we often overlook more personal and meaningful ways of connecting. It’s so quick and easy to send a message on Facebook or a text to a friend, but it’s also extremely impersonal and may not be received as well as you might intend.

Calling and talking to the person is also extremely powerful – but, understandably, more daunting to undertake and gives you less time to collect your thoughts around what to say next.

Sending a sympathy card to someone can help show you care and are thinking of them - more than any written digital communication could. You can take your time to gather your thoughts and craft a message of love and support, avoiding saying anything that can potentially upset or harm your relationship.

Sympathy cards may also be displayed by the recipient as a reminder of the support their friends and family are trying to provide. Often, they are kept as keepsakes of the deceased, with anecdotes and memories helping remind of good times once shared and the ways other people’s lives were touched.

Who Should I Send a Sympathy Card To?

Deciding who to send a sympathy card to can be a difficult choice. Where you knew the deceased well, often the closest living relative is appropriate, particularly where you also knew these people. Parents, partners or eldest children are typically appropriate for these situations.

If you didn’t know the deceased well, but you are close to the bereaved, address your card to them, as personally as you feel is appropriate.

Where you’re addressing relatives you aren’t close to, remember to include titles and address them more formally, for example, ‘Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith’. If you know the bereaved well, you’ll more than likely know the best way to address them – however avoiding nicknames is generally a safe bet.

Don’t forget - you can always add ‘and family’ where you feel it’s appropriate.

What to Say in a Condolence Card

When you’re not sure of what to say, it’s often best to keep your sympathy message short and simple if you didn’t know the deceased well and aren’t close with the recipient. You can still be warm and comforting with the right words and often just the fact someone has reached out can make a difference.

Where you did know the deceased well or you’re close with the recipient, words will often come more naturally. Mentioning how much you enjoyed someone’s company, good times and experiences you had or how much you loved their smile and humour are all great ways of remembering someone in a positive way.

Some simple phrases you might look to include that work well in either situation might be;

  • While I don’t know exactly what to say, my thoughts are with you and your family at this time.
  • Please know that I’m here for you and your family during these difficult times, don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything.
  • I’ll always remember the warmth of ____’s smile and their amazing sense of humour. They could easily brighten the mood of a room with a brilliant story or well timed joke.
  • We’re sorry for your loss, and we’re remembering and celebrating ____’s life while mourning them with you during this time.
  • ____ always brought light into the lives of people they touched. We wish you and your family the most sincere of condolences during this time.

Structuring Your Sympathy Message

Writing a good sympathy card might seen daunting, however a few simple elements can combine to create a message of comfort for your recipient. Remember, you don’t need to rush your condolence message – take your time and make sure you’re happy with what you’ve written so you're saying sorry for your loss the right way.

First, select a card that’s appropriate for who you’re sending to. While you may have known the deceased well and shared a sense of humour, that won’t always mean their partner, siblings or parents do too. When in doubt, pick something simple and neutral.

Overall, keep your messages simple. Start with words of sincere condolences, then share a short, happy memory of the deceased if you have one. Then, offer your support or assistance if you’re able – it could be an offer to cook some meals or mind young children, or even something as simple as being available to talk. The important thing is to follow through with this offer and never make an offer if you have no intention of being able to keep it.

Finally, sign off with something simple that suits the recipient. There’s more suggestions below on how to tackle this and specific situations for different relationships with the deceased.

What Not to Say in a Sympathy Card…

Remember that this is an incredibly trying time for your recipient. You should absolutely avoid harsh words such as ‘death’, ‘dying’ and so on as these words can come across as insensitive. Where you do mention a death, use words such as ‘loss’ or ‘passing’ instead.

This time is also about the bereaved – while you may also be upset at a person’s passing, don't making this message about you. Avoid taking away or deflecting someone’s grief to give yourself focus, or trying to compare a loss you’ve experienced to someone else’s.

Everyone’s grieving process is unique and it’s incredibly important that the bereaved doesn’t feel like what they’re feeling is wrong or that they should suppress their emotions. Try not to give advice such as ‘stay strong’, and ‘you’ll get past this’ as it can seem like you’re ignoring their feelings and the complex emotions they’re experiencing.

Also entirely avoid apportioning blame or mentioning the circumstances of someone’s passing. In almost all cases the memory of someone’s passing will be harrowing and the bereaved won’t want to be reminded of such a situation.

Finally, where you’re unsure of someone’s religious beliefs or unsure of how best to express your condolences appropriate to someone’s religion – just avoid mentioning it entirely. Especially where your beliefs don’t align with the deceased or their family, avoid injecting religiously-oriented messages. An atheist might take offence to bible passages being quoted to them, for instance.

Some phrases you should steer away from include;

  • It’ll get easier in time…
  • These things happen for a reason…
  • ____ is in a better place now…
  • I know how you feel…
  • You’ll meet someone else… / You’ll fall in love again…
  • It’s time to move on…
  • You can still fall pregnant again….
  • Things could be worse…

Signing Off Your Condolence Message

How you sign off depends on how close you are to the recipient, however as with choosing how to address your card – it’s best to keep it simple and somewhat formal. Always finish with your name if the card is just from you, or if from your family, ‘The Smith Family’.

Some examples of signoffs include;

  • My deepest condolences,
  • With all our love,
  • Please accept my condolences,
  • With sympathy,
  • With caring thoughts,
  • Wishing you love and peace,
  • With heartfelt condolences,
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Such a wonderful service to share our love with family and friends. It's a beautiful gift for any occasion and everything was made so easy during lockdown that we could just send a lovely card when we can't step out. Thank you very much.
- Sweta, Australia

We hope this guide has helped you get started writing a personal, meaningful sympathy card and provided some inspiration on how to express your feelings. Hopefully we can also help you find the right design to express your condolences with from our range of sympathy cards.

If there's anything our team can do to help, or if you have any feedback on this guide we'd love to hear from you at support@cardly.net.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do you deliver?

    You can send a sympathy card to over 60 countries around the world and we offer free postage to Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and most of Europe.

    Postage times vary according to where you're sending to and the schedule of local mail carriers, however most countries are able to deliver in under a week. Please see our full FAQ for more details.

  • How long will it take for my card to be delivered?

    A card ordered before 10am Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) will ship the same day. Once in the post it will take the following estimated times to arrive:

    • Australia: 2 to 6 business days for regular post, or 1 to 3 business days for Express post. 
    • New Zealand: 7 to 12 business days
    • UK: 1-2 business days
    • Europe: 3-5 business days
    • US: 2 to 4 business days, or 1 to 2 business days for Express post.
    • Canada: 2 to 5 business days
  • How quickly do you print and post orders?

    Orders placed before 10am Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) local time will ship the same day. Orders placed after 10am will ship the next business day.

    This time is based on the region your card will send from:

    • US orders - GMT-5 (Michigan)
    • Canadian orders - GMT-4 (Toronto)
    • UK and European - GMT (Kent)
    • All other orders - GMT+10 (Brisbane, Australia)
  • I'd like to write the message myself, can I get a blank envelope with my card?

    You absolutely can and we understand some people would prefer to handwrite a sympathy card themselves to keep things more personal.

    Simply choose the 'send to me' option during checkout and enter your address. We'll send you a blank envelope with your card so you can send it yourself or give it to your recipient in person.