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Simple Sympathy

messages of sympathy

Knowing what to say to a grieving friend is not easy.  It feels like there are no words that can possibly be said.  And in a way, that’s true.  There really is not anything you could say or do to take away their pain.  I think that is the point.  If we are trying to make it all better or cheer them up, we are bound to say something insensitive.

Messages of Sympathy Should Not be Complicated or Elaborate

Some of the most hurtful sympathy statements come from trying to fix grief or find the “silver lining” in a tragedy.  Complicated directions and solutions really don’t make grievers feel any better. Understanding the why or the how of the situation doesn’t help either.

These types of sympathy statements should be avoided:

  • “She is in a better place now.”
  • “At least he lived a full life.”
  • “I guess it was just his time to go.”
  • “God needed her more than we do.”
  • “Time will heal all wounds.”
  • “Everything is going to be alright.”

God, everything, time…these are all grandiose ideas.  They might seem inspiring, but mourners are not necessarily looking to be cheered up.  It’s not what they need in the moment.

Express Sympathy Better with Simple Sympathy

Messages of Sympathy Should be Sincere

It’s okay to not know what to say, it really is.  It’s okay to not have the perfect words.  It’s better to be genuine.

  • “I can’t imagine your pain, we are wishing you comfort and peace.”
  • “I don’t know what I can say. Our thoughts are with you.”
  • “There are no words, but please know that we are thinking of you during this difficult time.”

Messages of Sympathy Should be Simple

Some of the most comforting words we can say are actually very basic, very plain and don’t appear to accomplish much.  These are the messages that help grieving people.

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I’m sorry for you loss.”
  • “Thinking of you with sympathy.”
  • “Wishing you peace and comfort.”
  • “Sharing in your sorrow.”
  • “Remembering with you, the life of someone so dear.”

More Than Words

Sending a card or flowers, writing a letter or giving a gift also show that you care and are really important ways to offer support.

Digital Scrapbook for My Son

Guest post by Janelle Shantz Hertzler

(author of Seasons of Solace)

Digital Scrapbook for My Son

Digital Scrapbook for My Son

After my husband was killed by a drunk driver, several of my aunts provided time, supplies, and expertise in the area of scrapbooking. Now that I am five years beyond my husband’s death and have worked on graduate studies in the area of trauma healing, I know that finding creative outlets for painful emotions is extremely helpful.

While a person is in shock, many emotions seem to “freeze up” inside them. This is a good thing because the body and person would be overwhelmed if they didn’t have that initial “shock” phase of grief.

Later, however, some people need help to get those emotions to “thaw out.” I was one of those people. I had never really seen myself as a creative individual. I wasn’t sure if scrapbooking would really be my thing. But I was surprised. The more I did it, the more I felt that I was somehow moving in the direction of healing.

I started out by doing a paper scrapbook with photos and stories of my and my husband’s life together. Since I had an 18 month-old, I wanted to also create a book that would help him get to know his dad. I invited all my husband’s family, friends, and work associates to contribute photos and stories for this book.

Eventually I also made a digital storybook through an online memory book/photo development service. This story book was one that I wrote that my son could listen to and understand as a preschooler. It told the story in an age-appropriate way. It became a favorite book for that season of his life. Later, preschool carpool moms told me he would quote the book, telling the whole story to his preschool friends when they asked about his dad.

These kinds of scrapbooks can also be made by family and friends of the bereaved. Tell your memories–co-workers, siblings often have great stories that other family members may not have heard. A digital scrapbook with memories from co-workers, titled “Things We Loved About John” would make a wonderful and deeply meaningful sympathy gift.

If you are interested in more ideas about scrapbooks, digital memory books or other creative ideas for working through grief you are welcome to visit my site www.journey-through-grief.com



Comforting the bereaved can seem overwhelming, however it really is possible. Instead of trying to cheer up a grieving friend, focus on being supportive and helpful.
Part of being supportive is understanding grief. Another great way to be supportive is to be a great empathetic listener. These two things can do so much to comfort a hurting loved one.

When it comes to understanding grief, it’s good to learn about the five stages of grief . If you want to learn more about grief you can do so by visiting our resources.
If you don’t have the time right now to really sit down and learn this stuff then just read the next thing.
There is one thing that will only take you a moment to learn and will help you immensely in comforting the bereaved. This one thing will completely change the way that you relate to grieving individuals.
This one thing is simply taking a look at the definition of bereaved. Here it is for you convenience:

Bereaved: Having been deprived of something or someone of great value, especially by death.

Essentially, a bereaved person is someone who has been robbed. And not just robbed of something that can be replaced, but robbed of a person who is irreplaceable and priceless.
For some reason mourners are often expected to “keep it together.”

These are examples of what NOT to say.
It is common for bereaved individuals to be told such things as:

  •  “It is all for the best.”
  • “Time will heal all wounds.”
  • “God has a purpose for this.”
  • “Cheer up you’ll feel better soon enough.”
  • “Be strong.”

Many of the most common responses received by the bereaved do not allow for grief, but rather try to fix it or minimize it.
You would not hear a robbed person be told such things. Nor would it be helpful to someone who has just been mugged to have your pity. Even your advice would be unhelpful until the victim has at least at a chance to process what has just happened to them.
They are going to be angry, sad, bitter, hurt and have a range of strong emotions that fluctuate wildly. You wouldn’t expect someone who has been recently robbed to be “over it.” Instead, you would expect that they are going to need to talk about it. They are going to describe what happened and how they feel about it several times at least. And it’s going to haunt them for awhile, perhaps for the rest of the lives.
In the Old Testament of the Bible we see instances where the bereaved wail loudly and tear their clothes. That’s probably about what we should expect. Yet, we don’t. Why is that? Maybe we should. Maybe we should expect our grief stricken friends to act like they were just robbed. They don’t need pity or advice, but rather the acceptance to feel everything they are feeling. They need for others around them to consider the range of emotional expression and grief to be valid.
Understanding this will help you have the proper expectation and response to grief. You can take this understanding and be a comforting presence by being a good listener.
Now, here is the thing about being a good listener:
Just about everybody thinks that they are a good listener. Very few people are actually good listeners.
Fortunately, empathetic listening is a learned skill set. You can be taught how to do it. You might need to practice it a bit and see it modeled, but you can definitely learn.

Comforting the Bereaved with Cards and Letters

Sending a card is really a simple, but meaningful way to let someone know that you care.
Sympathy cards and letters don’t need to say much. They need to say the right thing though. Keep them simple in order to keep them supportive.

Practical Ways to Help Someone Grieving the Loss of A Loved One

From housework to help with sympathy thank you cards, there are many practical ways to help a grieving friend or relative. Free printable “Thinking of You” coupons you can print out and send in a card.

Provide Meals or a Sympathy Food Basket for a Grieving Family

Sympathy food whether it is a gift basket or a home cooked meal can be a tremendous blessing. We have practical tips and ideas to help you. If you want to provide a week’s worth or meals for a grieving co-worker or friend, we have free printable resources to help you.



If you need to write a condolence letter, rest assured.  It’s not as hard as you might think.  First read these important tips then be inspired by a sample letters of condolence.
Still, feeling a little unsure? Here are a few tips to keep you on the right track.

A few things to keep in mind before you start your letter.

A condolence letter should be sent as soon as possible, ideally within the first two weeks following the death.
You should still send a letter of condolence even if it is belated. When it comes to sympathy and condolence messages late is truly better than never.
Describe your relationship with the deceased and how you felt toward them and what you will miss about them. Mention character qualities, talents and achievements of the deceased. This may be difficult if you did not know the deceased very well, but usually you can offer a more general statement.
Tell them about what you knew of the deceased, what he wanted to achieve, what were the dreams that he shared with his friends. Seeing his life through his friend’s perspective can bring comfort to the bereaved, and allow them to dwell in their cherished memories. As the years pass, when they read through your words of sympathy again, it will bring peace and healing.
A short but meaningful letter is far less painful to read than a long letter.
It is best to not use the phrases: passed on, passed away, departed, left this life, or gone to a better life. Instead simply use death or died.
If there is some way you can be of assistance please offer your help and support. It is best to make of specific offer of some kind. Need some ideas? See this list of wonderful ways to comfort the bereaved.

Is it okay to send a typed letter?

Most experts agree that it is best to send hand-written condolence letters, however there are some instances in which it is more appropriate to send a typed letter.
When sending a formal letter of condolence you should use business letterhead or stationery. A condolence letter can be inserted inside of a condolence card.
In addition to sending a condolence here are some other ways to comfort somebody you know who has suffered the death of a loved one.

Expressing Sympathy in the Workplace

According to Peggy Post and Peter Post of the Etiquette Advantage in Business, the following advice will help you support a bereaved co-worker.

  • Attend funeral services
  • Send flowers to the home or to the service
  • Collect money from other co-workers for sending flowers as a group
  • Send a card or letter to the house, even if you sent flowers
  • Offer practical help. It can be somethings as simple as, “I will check you phone messages for you.”
  • Send a gift basket to the home or consider asking co-workers to commit to a week long schedule of delivery dinners to the family.

belated sympathy card

Are you wondering if you should send a belated sympathy card?

Many people wonder if “late is better than never” when it comes to sympathy cards.

Ideally you want to send a sympathy card within the first two weeks of the death, however don’t think that just because you are late you should avoid sending a card at all.

There are several good reasons why you should still send a sympathy card.

  • Grieving individuals are still in need of comfort and support for months and years after the loss of a loved one.
  • As cards, gifts and visitors dwindle over the weeks after a death, the bereaved may feel that everyone else has moved on.
  • Your card may be even more treasured now that the initial shock of grief has worn off. Perhaps your card will find them at a very lonely time when they need to know that others still care.

So, how late is too late?

It all depends on the message you write in the card. Below are some ideas for belated sympathy card messages. By the way, an ordinary sympathy card is all you need. You’ll probably have a difficult time finding a belated sympathy card and it is not necessary to find a card specifically for this. In fact a blank card will do fine, since you add your own heart-felt message.

Belated Sympathy Card Messages

You could write:

They say that “time heals all wounds”, but I want to let you know that I am still here for you if you need a shoulder to cry on.


Thinking of you today and wishing you comfort and peace.


I know that you will never “get over” the loss of James and I want you to know that you don’t have to. Even if there are less sympathy cards and gifts arriving, we are still thinking of you.


We will be remembering precious James with you today.


The cards may have dwindled, gifts and visitors may not appear on your doorstep as often. But know that you are still in our thoughts and prayers. Wishing you comfort and peace.


Just thinking of you and remembering the precious life of our Mother with you today.


It Can Be Nice to Get a Card During Important Times

A year after the death you could send a card around the anniversary of the death. This is an important time to send a comforting card.
Other important dates: On wedding anniversaries, birthdays or other special days that may be difficult for the bereaved the simple gesture of sending a card can make a world of difference.

You may not be able to find a belated sympathy card. It is fine to use a blank card or one with a general message of comfort and support.
I tend to think that cards with a hand-written personal message are better than any generic sympathy cards you buy at the store. If you can find a blank card or one with minimal text, that would be perfect. You could also just send a “thinking of you” card.

You do not need to mention that you forgot to send a card or that you got to busy (or whatever happened). Keep your sympathy message focused on them. The important thing is that you are thinking of them now and offering support and encouragement today.

A common fear that many people have is that they will be “reminding” the bereaved of their loved one’s death. You may be concerned that sending a card five months after or on the anniversary of the death will bring back painful emotions.
In reality most grieving individuals feel that they no longer have the right to still be grieving, but they have not forgotten. Loved ones are never forgotten and it is nice to know that others have not forgotten either.


Our question today is from Margaret.  She writes:

I need a suitable sympathy message for a friend who lost a daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters in a fatal car accident.

My friend has just lost four members of her family in a devastating accident and I would like to enclose a sympathy poem or verse to give her comfort at this time.

Please can you help?


Dear Margaret,

I am so sorry that your life has been touched by this tragedy. I am sure you will be a tremendous support to your friend during this difficult time.

There are many wonderful poems by a woman named JilChristy Dee. Having experienced tragic losses herself, she writes poetry to comfort grieving hearts.
I have not asked permission yet to reprint her poetry, but you can go directly to her website.

She has one poem in particular called, “We Didn’t Get to Say Good-Bye” that I think would be particularly suitable for your grieving friend.

You can find JilChristy Dee’s poems at www.funeralpoemsandreflections.com

Also, here are some sympathy verses you may want to use in a condolence card.

  • May the peace which comes from the memories of love shared, comfort you now and in the days ahead.
  • Words seem inadequate to express the sadness we feel. Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.
  • Although no words can really help to ease the loss you bear, just know that you are very close in every thought and prayer.
  • You have my deepest sympathies on the death of your uncle. Know that our hearts go out to you in your time of sorrow.
  • I was deeply saddened to hear of your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.
  • We are deeply saddened by your loss. We will cherish the memories of the times we spent together.
  • Lean on your friends for strength, and always remember how much you are cared about.
  • As you comprehend this profound loss, let yourself cry knowing each tear is a note of love rising to the heavens.
  • May the God of comfort help you during this difficult time and may the love of those around you help you through the days ahead.

I hope this helps.




Today we have an important question from an anonymous reader.  She writes:

My daughter has had a miscarriage after trying for over a year to conceive her first child. She was 11 weeks and is totally devastated.


Dear Caring Mother,

I am sorry for you and your daughter during this difficult time. A miscarriage is a devastating loss and unfortunately one that is often underestimated.

I am glad your daughter has somebody in her life who will be able to provide support and comforting words.

I know that many women do not and they carry around the hurt for years, not just the hurt from the loss, but also from insensitive remarks.

Just the other day an older friend of mine was telling me with tears in her eyes about a miscarriage she suffered years ago. She said that the things that people said to her were terrible.

She said people didn’t know to do anything to express sympathy for a miscarriage and in an attempt to comfort, they ended up saying hurtful things.

These are the “biggies” that I have vowed to never say.
These comments all have been known to be hurtful to women who have miscarried.

  • “It was meant to be.”
  • “It was for the best.”
  • “Your baby is in a better place now.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “I know exactly how you feel.” (even if you have experienced a similar loss)
  • “At least you have other children.” or “you can always have another baby.”

The fear of saying the wrong thing may make you want to keep quiet and that can be okay. Your presence can be tremendously comforting.

Having a comforting presence is a bit of an art form. Some people get it and others perhaps never will.

However, here is a big step in the right direction. It is actually very simple. It’s simply this…try not to give advice.
Almost always when somebody says something insensitive it stems from trying to give advice and this just doesn’t work with grief. You cannot fix grief or cover it up, but you can lighten the load by sharing it.

One of the best ways to comfort other is to learn how to listen empathetically.  I believe this is the best thing you can do to be a comforting presence for your daughter.

Now, there is another thing that is also very helpful. I want to tell you about two amazing resources for your exact situation.

The first is an online store called, My Forever Child. You will find an amazing selection of miscarriage remembrance jewelry. My Forever Child was started by a woman who experienced her own loss and sought out a way to find comfort for herself and to honor the memory of her child.

Another wonderful resource is La Belle Dame.

La Belle Dame specializes in gifts for miscarriage and infant loss.
They are also the only place I’ve seen where you can purchase a miscarriage sympathy card.

I wish I would have know about when a close friend of mine miscarried. By the way I didn’t give her a gift or a card and I really wish I would have.
If your daughter lives a long way away from you and you will be sending a card, here are some ideas for what to write in a miscarriage sympathy card.

another resource here at Simple Sympathy is:
Poems for Miscarriage and Infant Loss
You might find that these poems are comforting to your daughter. They can be added to a sympathy card or framed for a quick memorial gift.

I hope this helps you out. Best wishes as you comfort your daughter.



Today we have a question from Gina.  She writes:

The person who passed away is the owner of a company that my company deals with. Since I’ve gotten to know him and the family I consider them friends. So, what would be the proper donation amount?

Dear Gina,
There really is no specified amount, it is entirely up to you how much money you’d like to donate.

In most cases the family is given a list of the names of individuals who made donations to the selected charity, but the dollar amount is not revealed.

I should say too that many people, especially florists, are eager to change the phrase “In Lieu of Flowers.” It causes much confusion. Many people wonder if it means that they should not send flowers at all. What about memorial gifts or other expressions of sympathy? And of course there is the issue that your question brings up. How much big should the donation be?

I’d like to quickly address some of these questions. “In Lieu of Flowers” does not mean that you should not send flowers or gifts. It is simply there to provide friends and family with an alternative and lasting way of showing their love and support.

Just as it is an individual choice how much money you would spend on a sympathy gift, it is also an individual choice how much money you’d like to donate.

I’d simply donate an amount that I would normally spend on a gift or flowers and also send a card.

You may want to mention in your card that you made a donation to the the selected charity in remembrance of their loved one.

Also, some people make a donation in addition to sending flowers or a gift to express their sympathy.

Best Wishes,


Our Sympathy Q&A question is by Linda Haines from Silverdale, Washington.  She writes:

My uncle who is remarried, lost his adult son recently to cancer.
I think we should send a sympathy card to my uncle personally, since he is the one who we are so close to and is feeling the grief much more than his wife.
But on the other hand, we don’t want to slight her.
Should we send the card to Mr. & Mrs.? or just Mr.
We looked all over your site for this question, but could not find anything.
Thanks for any help you can give.
L. Haines


Dear Linda,

I am sorry for the loss of your Uncle. I hope you will be encouraged and find many ways to comfort your family here at this site. Now, to answer your question.

You should send your sympathy card addressed to both Mr. and Mrs. If you decide to only send your card addressed to your uncle I am sure most people would not think anything of it so don’t feel bad if you decide to do this.

However, as far a sympathy etiquette goes it is respectful to include as many individuals as may be affected in your greeting. Which means that if there are other family members in the home you would list them as well. If you are unsure you should address the card to the family. For example, The Myers Family and then the inside of the card would list the family i.e. Dear Dale, Chelsea, Anne and Bradley.

Sometimes individuals are hurt or offended at not being included in the sympathy greeting. It’s best to try and avoid this.

I’d imagine in your situation that your Uncle’s new wife is also affected by this loss (not to the same degree of course). It would be nice to include her as well.

I understand that you especially want to comfort and support your uncle. You can also speak specifically to him in part of your letter or send him a special sympathy gift.

I hope this helps and keep in mind that etiquette rules are just a guideline. If you know that your Uncle’s wife wouldn’t mind not having the sympathy card addressed to her than do that. Also, know that many people do only send cards to one individual so it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Best Wishes,

pet loss sympathy

Today’s Sympathy Q&A question is from Natalie.

I work at a Veterinary Practice and am designing a “Private Cremation Pack” This gives the owners more time to look through this booklet and decide which casket or urn they would like their beloved pet’s ashes in.

I am struggling with writing a covering letter with words of sympathy.

Are you able to help at all?

Look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks,



Dear Natalie,

I am glad to help you as you offer support and sympathy to grieving pet owners.

Here are some ideas for pet sympathy poems, pet loss quotes and sample sympathy messages that could be used in the booklet you are designing.

Pet Sympathy Poems

Pet Loss Quotes

Sample Pet Sympathy Sentiments

I hope this helps you out.

Best Wishes