Congratulations on picking up a sympathy card! The thoughtful part is over. Now you just need to write something equally thoughtful in it. Thinking about scribbling down some Nicholas Sparks bullshit and calling it a day? Don’t! Here are three tips for crafting simple, sophisticated condolences.
1. Don’t Make It About You
I don’t care if the deceased is the mother of your BFF and you knew good ol’ Mrs. Van Der Futz since you were 8 years old and she let you all watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at a sleepover because the ‘80s were a great time to be a kid. Keep the focus of your message firmly on the recipient’s grief, not yours.
"That's an easy one, Heather! Mola Ram pulled the man's still-beating heart from his chest in order to pacify the gods and magnify his power."
"Now I get it! Thanks, Mrs. Van Der F!"
It’s A-OK to be sad about your pal's loss, but talk that out with your partner, a sibling or a trained pro. When sending a sympathy card, your job is to basically say, "Hey, I see that you're in a really crappy spot right now, and I'm thinking of you," and then maybe send an Uber Eats gift card or a casserole. Everyone grieves differently (duh), but most people need to feel supported, and everybody needs to eat at some point.
Now is not the time to explain in detail just how hard it was for you to see their once-vibrant uncle battle cancer these last four years, nor is it the appropriate space for detailing the multitude of ways Brenda’s department will miss her since that tragic Rollerblading accident. Save that for another time.
2. Keep It Brief
If you’re struggling with what to say in a sympathy card, here’s some good news: You should keep it short.
Got a lot to say? That’s fine, but like I just noted above, reserve that for a follow-up letter, email or text exchange. Even better, let your friend or co-worker initiate that conversation when they’re ready.
For now, get yourself a rad handmade sympathy card and your favorite pen (we all have one), and crack open that card. Then, like a Navy SEAL, get in and get out.
The best sympathy messages contain two basic thoughts:
[I’m sorry for your loss.] + [I’m thinking of you.]
You could write exactly that, I guess, minus all the weird-ass punctuation. It sounds a bit robotic, though.
Better still, you could put your own twist on those two sentiments, and maybe even add in another idea of your own. This brings me to my last point:
3. Be Sincere
I made fun of Nicholas Sparks above, but if A Walk To Remember is meaningful to you and your sympathy card’s recipient, then, by God, plug some Sparks in there!
And sorry. That was a lazy joke. Shane West is forever.
What matters most when sending your condolences is that you’re sincere. In most cases, it matters less what you say than how you say it. Your friend, family member or co-worker on the receiving end wants to hear you in your own voice (or at least a close approximation).
Life gets really weird, really fast when somebody dies; odds are, your pal wants all the normalcy they can get, even if it’s a “stupid” in-joke from you about their dead grandma’s beloved White Sox or a “dumb” gift card to the deli on the corner because you know your cubicle-mate always gets his incredibly smelly lunch from there.
The best thing to say in a sympathy card is something short, sincere and not at all self-serving. Need a little inspiration? Sign up for the Pretty Good Newsletter, and you’ll get a PDF full of 57 things to say in sympathy cards and other popular greeting cards, all for the low, low price of absolutely nothing.