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Illness & Death
Illness & Death

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“Our local hospitals have very little training in the most important aspect of working with those who have lost a loved one; what to say during those times of loss. Your books are truly a fantastic resource and will be extremely valuable as we go out and conduct trainings. Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful book!”

Jennifer Marsh, MS, IMF, Community Programs Coordinator, The Elizabeth Hospice

Sympathy Notes
Why we write sympathy notes
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When someone dies, all we have left are our memories. Condolence notes that express your sympathy bring comfort to the bereaved. The most meaningful ones include your thoughts, personal memories and, if possible, a treasured story. Photographs are especially appreciated.

Expressing condolences can be a challenge when you never met the deceased. Instead of first hand observations, you can draw on the previous conversations you've had with the bereaved. Use those stories and anecdotes as the basis for your note of sympathy, as in the following example:

Dear William,

You have my deepest sympathy on the death of your mom. I know how important she was in your life and your care and support during these last few years must have brought her great comfort. Your relationship was quite special and while this makes the loss so very painful, I do believe that your closeness and warm memories will bring you comfort. Know that I am thinking of you and your mom.



Used with permission from

Belated Sympathy Notes
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How late is too late when it comes to sympathy notes? As one widow shares, “It's never too late. It's not as if we finish grieving and ‘forget’ that our loved one died.”

Here are some tips on belated condolence notes:

A loved one’s death is always in the hearts and minds of the bereaved.

  • Begin your sympathy message with something like: “I just wanted you to know that Susan is often in my thoughts and I remember her with love, as I know you do."
  • Whether you just learned of a death or procrastinated for months, don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • The bereaved will be grieving for a long time and your thoughtfulness and care will help in the healing process.
Sympathy Notes - How to Close
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The act of writing a sympathy note is just like any other task; it’s hard to begin. But once you have found a rhythm and finished your writing, how do you close? Check out our tip:

Most writers end condolence notes with a caring message, for example:

  • “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.” It’s a simple close that will not offend.
  • Or, you can reiterate your condolence message with, “My deepest condolences on your loss.”

One I like to use:

“May memories of the life you shared bring you comfort in the days and months ahead.”

Sympathy Letters - How to Begin
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Have you sent your condolences or are you still procrastinating, unsure of where to begin? An old Chinese proverb states that “A long journey begins with but a single step.” So, if you haven’t written a sympathy note because you can’t figure out where to begin, follow our tip.

Tell them how you feel.

  • Are you sad to hear the news?
  • Did the death affect you deeply?
  • Have you been reflecting on special memories of the deceased?

The following introductory sentence often expresses how I feel:

“It is with a heavy heart that I send my deepest condolences on the death of your ****. “

Please share yours!

Instant Sympathy via Facebook
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News travels fast through social media so it’s no surprise to hear about a death through Facebook. Blasts of news are so frequent that we’ve become adept at responding in similar fashion. Why send a sympathy note when with a few clicks of the keys, you’ve said your peace? With seemingly ease, people react immediately to sad news.

While I’m not a fan of posting condolence messages on Facebook, I’ve become aware of just how comforting the immediacy of support can be.

I recently attended the funeral service for a 79-year-old member of my congregation. During the service, one of the bereaved sons shared a few of the many tributes written on his father’s Facebook page. His father was a retired music teacher and his former students were very loyal and kept in touch. Upon hearing of his death, there were dozens of messages that appeared on his Facebook wall. One shared his deep sadness upon hearing the news and then continued by detailing how his beloved music teacher made a huge difference in his life. He shared stories that the family had never heard and this brought them a greater sense of their father’s legacy as well as his talents. Other students shared stories that depicted their dad’s idiosyncrasies and this made them laugh. Laughter in the face of so many tears brought solace.

When my mom died, I loved the stack of condolence letters I received and on sad days, I took them to my favorite chair and re-read them. It’s true, I had to wait months to receive some of them but they became treasured reminders of my mom’s legacy; and they brought much comfort.

Facebook seems to be doing the same thing and more in a quicker and more efficient format. For example, years ago when a cousin died, it took lots of work to hunt down old photos, make copies, and send an album to her husband. Now, it’s easy to scan old photos and post new ones on Facebook, some the bereaved may never have seen. And even if they have seen them, they have all the memories in one online place.

Will I stop mailing written condolences? Probably not. But I will be more flexible in sharing stories and photos on Facebook. If I see the bereaved is “liking” what they see, I may add some memories to the mix. After all, the whole point is comforting the bereaved.

Used with permission

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