How to Write a Letter of Condolence

A letter of condolence is one of the most important and intimidating letters many of us ever have to write.
I hope to provide you with the resources and inspiration to make this daunting task very simple. I think you will find that not only can a condolence letter be easily written, but your efforts will be appreciated and bring much comfort the grieving.
A well-written letter of condolence is not only the easiest way to comfort the bereaved, but also the one gesture of sympathy that is most appreciated by grieving individuals.
Based upon their study of thousands of condolence letters and analysis of their structure, Leonard and Hillary Zunin in their book, “The Art of Condolence” share seven components that provide a simple and clear outline to help you compose a comforting message. You do not need to include all seven components, but keeping them in mind will provide an effective guide for a well written letter.
The 7 letter of condolence components include:

1. Acknowledge the loss and the name of the deceased.
2. Express your sympathy.
3. Note special qualities of the deceased.
4. Include a memory of the deceased.
5. Remind the bereaved of their personal strengths or special qualities.
6. Offer help, but make sure it is a specific offer.
7. End a letter of condolence with a thoughtful word, a hope, a wish or expression of sympathy e.g. “You are in my thoughts and prayers.” (“Sincerely,” “love,” or “fondly,” may not be the best choices.)
1. Acknowledge the loss and the name of the deceased.
The first sentence of your letter is a simple acknowledgement of the loss. This makes the purpose of the letter clear. Using the first name of the deceased makes your condolence personal and is a comfort to the bereaved. You may also want to let the bereaved know how you learned of the death and how you felt upon hearing the news.
“I am sorry to hear about…”
”I am saddened of the loss of your…”
2. Express your sympathy.
Let the bereaved know your sadness. Use words of sympathy to share your own sorrow. This will remind the bereaved they are not alone in their grief. You may simply say:
“I am sorry for your loss.”
3. Note special qualities of the deceased.
If you can think of a nice compliment or can note a special quality of the deceased, it can be comforting to the bereaved. Leave out this step if you did not know that deceased very well. Was there a special characteristic that you valued in the individual? These might be qualities of personality, such as leadership or sensitivity. They might be attributes such as fun-loving or talented. They might be ways the person related to the world, such as devoted father, generous or hard-working. You may also write of the special relationship you noted between the deceased and the bereaved.
It may help to try finishing one of the following sentences.
“He will be missed for his…”
”I always appreciated the way she…” “I’ll always remember the way he…”
4. Recall a memory about the deceased.
Tell a brief story or anecdote that features the deceased. Try to capture what it was about the person in the story that you admired, appreciated or respected. Talk about how the deceased touched your life. Use humor-the funny stories are often the most appreciated by the bereaved. Leave out this step if you did not know the deceased very well.
Here are some ideas:
“I’ll never forget when he…”
”I remember when I first met John…”
5. Remind the bereaved of their personal strengths.
Bereavement often brings with it self-doubt and anxiety about one’s own personal worth. By reminding the bereaved of the qualities they possess that will help them through this period, you reinforce their ability to cope. Among these qualities might be patience, optimism, religious belief, resilience, competence, and trust. If you can recall something the deceased used to say about the mourner in this regard, you will really be giving your friend a gift.
“You have always been…”
”I admire your…”
6. Offer specific help if there is something you can do to be of assistance to the bereaved.
Avoid saying, “If there is anything I can do, please call.” This can actually put a burden on the bereaved who may be totally at a loss about what needs to be done. Leave out this step if you are unsure whether or not you can do something to help. Please don’t make an offer you can’t fulfill.
“I would be glad to…”
”If it would be helpful for you, I’d like to…”
”Would you like me to pick up…”
7. End with a thoughtful sentiment.
Some ideas for sympathy sentiments to close with: “My affectionate respects to you and yours.” “May the love of those around you, help you through the days ahead.”
You can find more sympathy card sentiments for your letter of condolence here.

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