Sympathy Notes: Make it Personal

“I’ve just reread the notes that both of you sent me, and I can’t tell you how much they meant to me.”

That is what prompted Sandy to give me a call yesterday. It had only been about 12 weeks since Shell’s death, so she had so much more on her mind than the notes from us. But it reminded me of the importance of writing a truly personal sympathy note.

Sympathy notes are hard to write, so we agonize over what to say. Do you say “passed”, or “left us” or use the actual word “death?” You don’t want to say “I know how you feel,” because, in their mind, you really don’t know. As I was googling “sympathy notes,” I discovered that, like everything else, there is a long list of appropriate phrases, for those of us having trouble writing the note.

Seeing them there on the screen, dozens of phrases, I cringed. I had used so many of them myself:

  • Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
  • We are thinking of you during this difficult time.
  • We are deeply sorry to hear about the death of “name of deceased.”
  • As you grieve know that we are remembering you and honoring the memory of “name of the deceased.”
  • With loving memories of “name of deceased”
  • “Name of Deceased” will remain in our hearts forever.
  • We share comfort in knowing “name of deceased” is no longer suffering. We send thoughts of sympathy and support to you as you begin your journey without “name of deceased.”
  • Remembering you and “name of deceased” in our minds and in our hearts.
  • “Name of deceased” brought so many gifts to our life. We will never forget him/her!
  • Wishing you peace to bring comfort, courage to face the days ahead and loving memories to forever hold in your hearts.
  • When reason fails, pray for peace. We will be praying with you.

The sentiments are real, the person writing is doing it because they DO care, it is just awkward and difficult to know what to say. 

The notes that my husband and I wrote to Sandy, these were spontaneous. They both had meant a great deal to us, we had so many experiences together, and they were extraordinarily generous people. So what we wrote came from our hearts, and they were actually easy to write. My husband is always so thoughtful when writing a sympathy note, and he ties it explicitly to actual experiences. More than that, he expresses the sentiment beautifully:

Dear Sandy,
I can’t tell you how truly sorry I was to hear of Shell’s death. I will never forget the many courtesies he, and you, extended to us on our move to Southern California in 1987, and in the years thereafter, introducing us around, greeting us with smiles at all of the “must go to” events, and always being there when friendship was needed.
He was our Mr. LA, our “Knows Everybody” Guy, and wonderful friend.
I know we will all miss him. My condolences to your and your family,
In the Winter household, Shell Ausman will never be forgotten.
Best regards,

After hearing how much our letters meant to our dear friend, having lost her best friend and husband, I am promising myself to take the time, especially since we are at an age where we are writing more of these, to really focus on the things we remember about this person who was a part of our life. Just as I reread very personal and lovely notes from my husband, this will give so much more lasting comfort than flowers or food, even though those are important, too.


Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash