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Illness & Death
Illness & Death

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“Kaplan has written a book that should be a staple of every medical school’s curriculum.  It’s a must for student doctors, and those advanced in their training. Not only does Kaplan include examples of how and what to say (and perhaps more importantly, what NOT to say), but practical tips on what to DO. ‘Tips’ in bold, scattered throughout each section, offer quick, practical suggestions when the reader is pressed for time.”

Barbara M. Mackie, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor at VCU School of Medicine and Georgetown University School of Medicine

Sympathy Notes
Facebook condolences versus sympathy notes
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A friend and I had many discussions on the appropriateness of condolence messages on Facebook, and yet I wasn't surprised when he announced the death of his father on Facebook. In this day and age, social media is the most expedient way to communicate personal news.

But what a dilemma; do you post a condolence message on Facebook or write a traditional note of sympathy?

The decision was not too hard for me; I always write a sympathy note. Having been bereaved myself, I know the healing power of written condolences and I like to think sympathy notes will be re-read during the period of mourning.

Facebook communication is so tempting because it is immediate. Had I written on his wall, my friend would have known instantly that I cared. Instead, he had to wait a few days until the sympathy note arrived.

Was it worth the wait? I believe so. My friend wrote an email to thank me and we have been emailing each other since. While Facebook is immediate, the posts are often short and quickly written. Notes of condolence take time and are usually well thought out. I believe they are meaningful; well worth the time it takes to write and deliver.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/John-Morgan

Sympathy Notes - Write From the Heart
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Writing a sympathy note is not that complicated if you speak from the heart. Take the time to jot down how you are feeling and then draft a condolence note that expresses your thoughts.

Are you feeling sad over the loss of a friend’s dad? Has your aunt been in your thoughts since you heard of your uncle’s death? Do you have a special memory that always comes to mind that you can share? Will you be reaching out through a visit or phone call?

The very best messages of sympathy share your caring thoughts. If you take the time to convey them, you’ll send a sympathy note that is sure to comfort.

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.”

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