How to write a letter of sympathy when someone dies, 2015

It’s more than 4 years since I last wrote about this sad topic and in that time, some ways of communicating our sympathies have changed, given that the media we can use today have expanded way beyond paper, cards, pens and even basic emails.

How to write a letter of sympathy when someone dies, 2015

Today. writing a letter of sympathy when someone dies can be done either by hand or often, online

For a list of all 12 articles in this series on how to write well to people dealing with death, bereavement and other life sadness, click here. 

As I said in the earlier article, expressing your sympathies and condolences at a time like this doesn’t have all that much to do with the deceased person, but has everything to do with sharing your thoughts with the family and friends left behind. This is still foremost in how you should approach whatever you write.

What has changed though, in the way we communicate our sympathies and condolences?

Before we take another look at the words we can write, it’s worth noting how we can react to the way things have changed.

Below you’ll find some reminders of ways you can write to the bereaved via email, which also are suitable to use in handwritten letters and cards.

But you may want to think about how you should communicate when you see a death announcement online on a social media platform.

Death announcements on social media

Often this is very difficult to deal with.

Not only do social media death announcements of close friends and associates shock and upset us, but also they make us wonder how best to convey our sympathies and condolences. Below I have shared some ideas on how you can adapt the basic approaches to the sharper, shorter context of comments and posts in the social media.

But before we look at online manifestations of letters of sympathy and condolences when someone dies, first of all let’s remind ourselves of the key areas to include. Here are the basics of what you can communicate, as I mentioned back in the earlier article:

Key points to express when writing such a message, whatever the medium

**So sad to see/hear of your loss

**What the deceased meant to me (positive and even amusing if appropriate)

**Something uplifting (if possible)

**Thinking of you at this tragic time

Examples of writing styles from the previous article

The following approaches are still suitable to use in handwritten letters and cards, and also in emails:

Dear XXX – I was so saddened to hear the news about Bert. He was very dear to me, as you know, and I’ll always remember how much fun we had when I would take him for consultations about his hearing aids. I know you’ll miss him terribly, but he was a very lucky man to live such a long and healthy life and have you guys to love and support him. Thinking of you…Sz xx

Dear YYY- I was very shocked and upset to hear that you have lost ZZZ. I knew she was ill but I didn’t realize she had so little time left. She was a brilliant woman and I’ll truly miss our rides out together on the horses. She may have had life snatched away from her early, but I know the years you and she were together were the best ones of her life. She was very lucky to have you – and knew it. With every sympathy and love … Sz.

Dear AAA – So sorry that your Dad has passed away. I know you were expecting it to happen at any time but I remember from losing my own Dad that this doesn’t make it any easier when it finally does occur. Thank Heavens it was peaceful and that he went knowing how much he was loved and supported by you all. My thoughts and sympathies are with you, BBB and your Mum right now. Sz xx

Dear CCC – I was very saddened to read of your husband’s passing. As you may know he was my accountant for many years and always looked after my business affairs to perfection, with unfailing accuracy and patience at my disorganised book-keeping… I know he had a very happy family life and was devoted to you all – lucky man. With my sincere condolences at this sad time, Suzan St Maur.

Examples of comments and posts suitable for social media

Here now are their social media equivalents, which of course you will want to adapt for the social media platform concerned and a number of other considerations including how well you knew the deceased and their family and friends.

You may also find the following articles helpful:
How to write a death announcement
What to write when someone has died
How to write a eulogy
How to write an obituary

The keys here are brevity and informality without trivialising anything.

For example:

So sad hear about Bert – he was very dear to me and I’ll always remember how much fun we had. You’ll miss him terribly, but he was a very lucky man to live such a long life and have your love and support. Sz xx

Shocked and upset to hear you have lost ZZZ. Knew she was ill but didn’t realize there was so little time left. A brilliant woman and I’ll truly miss her so much. I know the years you and she were together were the best ones of her life. Lucky lady – and she knew it. Sz xx.

So sorry your Dad passed away. I know you were expecting it but that doesn’t make it any easier. Thank Heavens it was peaceful and he knew how much he was loved. Thoughts and sympathies with you all. Sz xx

Saddened to read of your husband’s passing. He was my accountant for years and had endless patience with my poor book-keeping… am so grateful he had a very happy family life – lucky man. Sincere condolences at this difficult time, Suzan St Maur.

And how should we react when deceased people’s profiles remain on social media?

This is a very sensitive issue to consider … and despite how it can appear, it’s wrong to jump to inappropriate conclusions.

Whenever I see the name of a deceased friend, colleague, client or associate appear on social media I shudder, because it makes me wonder if their family and friends have forgotten to take them off the platform concerned.

And to western cultures this can seem like an excellent idea; why rub out the presence of someone who meant so much to so many people, when they can remain online in perpetuity?

Although you may feel (as I do sometimes) that it’s a little spooky to see someone’s name crop up when you know they passed away some years ago, it’s important that we respect their families’ and colleagues’ wishes to keep their memories alive online.

When comments are still permitted, you can express your sympathies and memories on such online pages on occasions when you feel you want to commemorate your relationship with the deceased – e.g. their birthday, their work anniversary, etc.

Update October 5th, 2015 – your digital legacy

My good friend Angela Sherman from Care To Be Different just pointed this article out to me, which shares Facebook’s new offering to help families and colleagues deal appropriately with a member’s death, via a “Legacy Contact.”

In this article on the Fortitude Financial Planning website, they say, “This feature was rolled out in the United States in February of this year (2015) and it is now possible for Facebook users in the UK to appoint a post mortem representative who will be able to decide what will happen to their profile after their death.”

“The so-called ‘legacy contact’ feature allows the appointed representative to write a final post and update photos, as well as be able to download the deceased’s public profile as an archive. However, the representative will not be given access to private messages and will not be able to edit what the deceased has already posted. In addition they will not be able to delete the whole account.”

It’s probable that other social media platforms will follow Facebook’s example. I will update this article as and when they do.

What about sympathy and condolences eCards?

These may have been frowned upon a few years ago but increasingly they are becoming more accepted as genuine, heartfelt ways of expressing your feelings without relying on snailmail and without chopping down yet more trees.

There are many eCard providers which offer condolence electronic condolence cards of all kinds – simply Google “ecard sympathy condolences.”

My own personal favourite (and I stress, I have no commercial incentive to promote them) is the Jacqui Lawson website – her eCards are simply beautiful and uniquely inspiring.

Other related articles here on HTWB

How to write a death announcement

What to write when someone has died (2011)

How to write to someone who is dying

Cancer: what to write to someone who has it

Please share any questions you may have about what to write when someone dies

I’d be glad to share my own views and experiences with you, and refer you on to other suitable resources.




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  1. I am communicating with a friend (not a super close friend but, I have always been very empathetic, sincere & honest & straight up with how I feel with the people who know me) I am generally pretty good with my wording & expressing my thoughts and feelings about a subject I am compassionate about.
    I am texting my friend about where to deliver some special rolls I made this morning & my question, what is the appropriate way to say, you hope everyone is doing alright or even what I should even say When I have already expressed our prayers are with them all. The day of the accident. I also am hand writing a message in a card along with the previous text messages. By the way, I have ALWAYS felt that writing to ppl on Facebook (their page especially!!) people I concider a friend, (and have their phone number) to not be sincere and more of a show for everyone else who reads it. So as a rule I do not. IF, IF I do write on Facebook it will always be a PRIVATE MESSAGE!!! Because it is a personal message & shouldn’t be public. It takes sincerity out of your message when the whole world can see it.
    I greatly appreciate your page. Too many people put Little or no thought in a letter a message to someone who has recently experienced a loss. Writing to a person who has experienced a death in their family should be handled with kid gloves. (Although, sometimes I put entirely too much thought into something like this and don’t feel I have the perfect words and then never finish. Which I realize is probably worse.. But, I just wanted it to be perfect I don’t want to say the wrong thing)

    • Thanks for your comment, AME. I take your points, and agree totally that it’s never easy to find the right comforting words for someone who is going through a difficult time. However I believe you can’t go far wrong if you write what’s in your heart as simply and directly as possible, as I’m sure you always do. Sz.


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