Condolences are difficult and delicate correspondences. In recent times unfortunately, many of us will have reason to pen a condolence card to a loved one who is grieving. In this short piece, I will cover some of the more common ways to convey your sympathy in a folded card.
First, it's important to have the right items at arm's length: the card, stamps and envelope. Separately, plan to have a writing pad to draft your thoughts before committing them to the card in ink. Given the nature of the written card as a personal expression of support and care, mourners are likely to save them and come back to them at anniversaries or other times of reflection. So it's particularly important to keep it as neat and clear as possible.
A condolence is typically written in a solemn, formal tone, and this remains appropriate regardless of your relationship with the mourner. The structure is simple and straightforward, and brevity is your friend.
Begin the card with a formal greeting "Dear Bill," is better than "Hi Bill" or "Hey Bill!"
Mention your reason for writing, eg. "I was so sorry to hear about the passing away of your brother."
Write about a positive, endearing memory of something special with the person, This is a good moment to write about any particular anecdotes that highlight the person's unique and memorable qualities. eg. "He was such a great friend, always looking out for me when we were in college."
Generally, be authentic and clear. If there's a funny story, share it: a mourner will appreciate such a memory. Acknowledge any less-than-ideal relationship with the person if indeed that was the case. For example if you did not get along with them, it's acceptable to mention, "I know that we didn't see eye to eye on a number of things, but I've never forgotten how wonderful he was to you and to me regardless." Similarly, if you didn't know the person well, mention it "I did not get to know him very well, but it was so clear how warm he was to everyone around him, and especially to you."
Sign with the same consideration as your beginning, with a farewell term that works well for your relationship. The tried-and-true “Sincerely,” is sufficient in this case.
Here quickly are a number of things to avoid in a condolence card.
Avoid asking for more details about the death from a mourner, or implying that you'd like to know more about "what happened." Avoid clichés such as "they're in a better place now", "time heals all wounds", or "at least they are not in pain anymore" Avoid making references to religion "I'll pray for you" or "I'll pray for them", unless you are absolutely sure they would appreciate the sentimentAvoid "filling" the space on a card: often if there is open space on a card, there can be a feeling like you have not said enough. Know that it is ok to be brief and to the point. That is often quite welcome.
A condolence card is ultimately intended for the mourner, to let them know that you care, that they can count on you and that you're a good listener to their needs. So it's perfectly fine to put your energies toward expressing that sentiment in your tone and, if appropriate, that you are able to offer help when it is needed.
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