Condolence Messages: How to Find the Right Words at a Difficult Time

Sunday, January 14, 2024

It’s very common to have a hard time finding the right words when composing condolence messages.

Whether you are posting to an online sympathy board or sending your condolences by mail, knowing what to say and how to express it can be a real challenge. Many people worry that they will say the wrong thing or that their sympathies will not seem personal enough. Rest assured, your words of comfort will be appreciated by your grieving friend or family member.

If you need some guidance writing heartfelt condolence messages, please read on as we share eight helpful tips.

1.     If you are unsure, say so.

Opening with “I don’t know what to say” or “I’m at a loss for words” is perfectly fine and may put both you and the bereaved at ease. The act of reaching out is what’s important. Don’t let a little awkwardness keep you from showing your support in their time of sorrow.

2.     Focus on the grieving.

It can be tempting to want to connect with the bereaved by mentioning a similar loss you experienced. Avoid platitudes such as, “I know just how you feel.” Your heart might be in the right place but grief is a uniquely personal experience. You can never know exactly how the person who is grieving a loss feels. Instead, you might say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

3.     Call to mind fond memories.

Stories about our loved ones become even more significant once they are no longer with us. If you have special recollections or happy memories of the departed, share one or two of them in your condolence letter or sympathy card. You might also recall special qualities you remember about them. If you didn’t know the person well, you could say, “While I did not know [name] as well as I would have liked, it was obvious they meant the world to you.” This lets the grieving person know that their loved one’s life was unique, special, and significant.

4.     Keep it brief and positive.

Relationships aren’t always simple. You may have had a conflicted past with the bereaved or the departed. If any part of what you plan to write gives you pause, don’t include it. Your sympathy card is not an appropriate place to share aggravations or express negative feelings. Err on the side of caution with a short condolence message to avoid any missteps.

5.     Offer specific help, and be sure to follow through.

Asking for and accepting help is hard for most people. You may feel like you want to help your grieving friend but aren’t sure how. “Let me know if you need anything,” is not likely to encourage them to reach out. If you really want to help, be specific. Try offering something specific along with a date, such as, “You mentioned that you aren’t sure how to write an obituary notice. I can come by tomorrow to help if you’d like.”

6.     Include a handwritten note.

Sympathy cards can be wonderful vehicles when it comes to conveying a thoughtful message. If you are sending a card, personalize it with a short note. Just a sentence or two is fine. You might say, “Please accept my deepest condolences” or “My heart and prayers are with you during this time of sorrow.”

7.     Seek connection over perfection.

When you pressure yourself to get the messaging ‘just right’, you risk putting off writing your condolence letter altogether. Rather than focusing on finding the perfect words, think about why you are expressing your sympathies. This can open the floodgates of creativity and allow you to put your heart into your message.

8.     Send it.

The act of acknowledging the loss is far more important than what you say. Although funeral etiquette recommends sending condolences within two weeks of the passing, it is never too late to reach out. Your hurting friend or loved one is sure to appreciate your thoughtfulness,

We hope you found these guidelines helpful. If you need additional pointers for meaningful heartfelt condolence messages, obituaries, or memorial speeches, our caring staff members are here for you. Please reach out to us anytime.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 25 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African-American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information about our funeral, cremation, memorial, repast, and grief counseling services, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at

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