It can be really hard to know what to say to somebody who has lost a loved one. There are the obvious and sensible concerns about phoning or dropping in because depending on the circumstances and the relationship, it can be just that bit too soon for people who are grieving. But sending a condolence message to a friend can be just the right touch.
The good thing about a condolence message is that it could never be the wrong thing to do. It’s not an imposition and it tells your friend that you are thinking of them which is always comforting to somebody who is grieving. Grief can be a lonely process, knowing that people are there for you should you need them is comforting.
Writing a condolence message isn’t something that we do everyday. There’s no expectation that we are going to say anything that will immediately change the way your friend is feeling but we do want to show sensitivity, respect and acknowledge the gravity of such a loss.
It’s best not to just write the first thing that comes to mind and place it in the letterbox. Practice first, get a draft down and consider it. Remember the old adage, if in doubt leave it out. A condolence letter is just that, a condolence letter. Any other sentiments, concerns or feelings should be left for another time.
How to begin
Address everybody in the family if that’s possible. It might be that you are only known to the person you are writing to in which case the other family members would certainly understand.
Why are you writing?
You are writing to offer your condolences on the loss of somebody that was obviously close to your friend so that is what you need to express. You should include the nature of the relationship between your friend and their loved one. Was it their father, sister or mother for instance?
Additional thoughts that are appropriate
Only do this if you know the person that your friend is grieving. Just because you didn’t know the person doesn’t preclude you from offering your condolences but you can’t comment on somebody you didn’t know.
On the other hand, you may have known and liked them and be in a position to offer some comments on their character, personality or achievements. These are comforting things to say when someone dies. They might have been a cheerful and humorous person in which case you could say exactly that and how much you enjoyed their company. Likewise if they were humble and caring. Perhaps you have a memory to share which always provides some respite from grief. It’s ok to say that you are saddened or shocked, that would be appropriate if that’s how you are feeling but comments that might suggest that their loved one is in a better place for instance, would not be. A condolence letter is not the forum for philosophical leanings that may not be shared. Sympathy quotes might fall into this category.
At or near the conclusion of your letter is when you should offer your help and support. It might be some practical support that you consider could be helpful or perhaps it’s just an offer to talk should your friend ever feel the need. You might also acknowledge the funeral details and express your inability to attend or alternatively, let them know if you will be attending. This is handy information for funeral directors who are always helped by anticipated attendance numbers.
The closeness of your relationship will determine how you sign off. ‘With sympathy’ is an appropriate choice. If you are much closer you might offer ‘lots of love’. Only you can judge how close your relationship is.