We often find ourselves stuck for what to say when someone dies but writing a letter of condolence and sympathy can help bring comfort to the bereaved. Try and write a few simple words to show that you are thinking of them and that their loved one had a positive impact on the lives of others.

A sympathy letter should pay tribute to the life of the deceased and provide support to the bereaved when they need it most; they may even save the letter and read it again in years to come.

How to write a condolence letter

1. Write the letter by hand

Writing the letter by hand is a lot more personal than if you were to type it or buy a sympathy card from a shop, though you may wish to buy a card and put the letter inside. The letter can be addressed to a single bereaved person or to the family as a whole.

2. Keep it short and simple

You don’t have to write a long letter, as long as it is sincere. We all worry about saying the wrong thing and making the bereaved even more upset, but showing that you care in just a few simple words is better than saying nothing at all.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is grieving and think about what you would like to hear in the same situation. Whilst you cannot take away a person’s pain, they will take comfort knowing that you are thinking of them during such a difficult time.

3. Express your condolences

Try not to dwell on how the person passed away. Instead, acknowledge the loss and express your condolences in a sincere and heartfelt manner.

Here are just a few examples:

  • I want you to know that I am sorry for your loss
  • It is with great sadness that I learned about the passing of…
  • I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of…

4. Share a memory

Sharing a fond memory of the deceased may bring a few moments of happiness to the bereaved. They may find it helpful to hear new stories about their loved one and that they positively affected the lives of others.

5. Offer your help and support

If you are able and willing to offer your help and support in the coming weeks or months, you should include this in the letter. The person is much more likely to take you up on a specific offer of assistance, such as doing a weekly shop; but try not to make promises that you cannot keep.

6. Close the letter with some thoughtful words

When closing the letter, try and think of a few thoughtful words which show your affection and support for the bereaved.

Here are just a few examples:

  • My love and thoughts are with you
  • With my affection and deepest condolences
  • My sincere sympathy

Examples of sympathy letters

To the family of someone at work who has died

I am writing on behalf of all [name’s] friends at [name of organisation] to express our sympathy at your sad loss. [Name] was a valued member of the team and contributed to the organisation in many ways. Besides being an excellent worker, [he or she] was always good-humoured and considerate towards [his or her] colleagues.

[He or she] often spoke of [his or her] family with affection. [Name] will be sadly missed by everyone at work. Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time.

To the family of someone you did not know very well

I was sorry to hear of your recent bereavement. Although I did not know [name] well, on the occasions when we met, [he or she] was always kind and considerate. Please accept my sympathy for your sad loss.

To the family who have lost a child

I was very upset to hear of your loss. [Name] was such a lovely [child or person] and will be dreadfully missed. If there is anything [I or we] can do, [I am or we are] only a phone call away.

To a neighbour or close friend

Although we have spoken recently, I wanted to write and tell you how sorry I am for your loss. [Name] was such a special person that no words are really adequate. [He or she] brought pleasure to everyone [he or she] met and will be sadly missed. People tell me how much they valued [name’s] friendship. I am always here to talk if you would like. I’ll get in touch soon to see if I can make myself useful in any way.

Visit our Helpful organisations page if you would like further advice on how to help someone who has suffered a loss.

Helpful organisations

Cruse Bereavement Care

The Samaritans

Citizens Advice Bureau

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