Sympathy Card Etiquette


Here are some of the most common sympathy card etiquette questions. The fact that you are interested in etiquette shows your care and concern.
Please remember that the purpose of etiquette is simply to guide us in respecting others. If you feel that you should do things differently than proper etiquette dictates, then by all means do what you know would be best received.

“Is it too late to send a card?”

Trying to come up with something to say in a sympathy card can be so daunting, many of us procrastinate until we fear it is too late. Ideally it is best to send a sympathy card within the first two weeks after a death, however when it comes to expressing sympathy, late is better than never. A card sent weeks, a month or a year later after the death can still be a source of comfort and healing. You may be afraid of “bringing it up,” but they are still grieving. Your gesture will still be appreciated, perhaps even more now. Remember that support from others will have diminished.
Grieving people still need messages of sympathy for years after a death and especially on holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. They do not forget their loss so you are not reminding them of it, instead, you are offering comfort and support for them which they likely still need.
Here are some creative sympathy card and gift ideas for months and years after the funeral.
You may also be interested in ideas for what to write in a belated sympathy card.

Card Etiquette Regarding Thank You Notes

It is customary for bereaved individuals to write a brief note to each person who has sent a personal condolence, flowers, gift or has made a donation to a charity on their behalf. However, it is not necessary to send out thank you notes for preprinted sympathy cards.
Sometimes writing thank you notes can be a healing and comforting activity for mourners. It can give them a chance to reflect on the love and support they have received from friends and family and on the impact their departed loved one has had on the lives of others.
If a bereaved individual is not up to the task perhaps a friend or family member would be willing to do it for them.
All of that said, bereavement is one time when others should not expect much from you. I think most people who send a sympathy card or gift are not expecting anything in return.

How to Sign a Sympathy Card

Use a thoughtful closing or sympathy sentiment and then sign your name. Clearly identify yourself. You should use both your first and last name to avoid any confusion. You may want to explain your relation, for example, I am Susie and Tom’s daughter. If it has been a long time since you have been in contact with the bereaved family, you may want to send a photograph of yourself.

“Is it proper sympathy card etiquette to send money with a sympathy card?”

Many people would be offended by such a gesture. They may feel that it sends a message that the bereaved can be consoled by money.
I know many others would really appreciate the gift of money in a sympathy card. I also know that it is becoming more and more common.
If you are unsure about how the recipient will feel about the matter, you could send a gift certificate instead. Gift certificates for sympathy meals or for favorite restaurants are a practical gift that can help families at a time when they are dealing with a lot of funeral expenses.

Card Etiquette for Addressing Envelopes

Handwrite on the envelope in blue or black ink. Either use a proper title such as Mrs. John Doe or use a full name such as Jane Doe. Even if the recipient knows you well you should clearly identify yourself and include your full name. Make sure to include your return address on the envelope, in case the bereaved has somebody else send out thank you cards on their behalf.

“Who do I address the card to?”

Address the card to the closest relative of the deceased, usually, this would be the widow, widower or the oldest adult child. The exception would be if you did not know the deceased, but you knew a family member. For example, if a friend’s father died, whom you did not know, you would address the sympathy card to your friend.