Comforting a friend or family member after the death of a loved one is never an easy thing. Knowing when and how to send a condolence card is a way to show that you care and want to be a source of support.
Make sure that you send the condolence card as soon as possible after hearing about the death. Waiting too late to give your condolences is poor taste and gives the impression that you are not genuinely concerned about the surviving family members. If you live in the same city as the person you want to send the card to, find out about funeral and wake arrangements to determine whether it is appropriate to hand-deliver the card. If you have to mail the card, do so after learning the funeral date to ensure that it will arrive either before or on the same day as the funeral.
Addressing the Card
If you knew the family members of the deceased, but did not know the individual that has passed away, address the card specifically to the members of the family with which you have a relationship. If you were close with the deceased, but do not know his or her family members, addressing the card to the next of kin is appropriate. This is usually the widow or widower of the deceased or the oldest child. Be sure to sign the card with your full name, so that the recipients will know exactly who the card is from, in case someone else has the same first name as you.
Keep the card message brief and simple. If you have a close relationship with the people who have lost a loved one or knew the deceased personally, your condolence card can include fond memories or a more detailed message of comfort and sympathy. Messages such as "[name of deceased] will always be fondly remembered" or "My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family during this time" are acceptable. Messages like "You won't always feel this bad" or "It was [name of deceased]'s time" are not appropriate. It is also not a good idea to try to empathize with those who are grieving, even if you have had a similar experience. Everyone goes through the grieving process differently, and telling someone that you know how they feel could be offensive.
Thank You Cards
The family and friends who are making funeral arrangements will likely have a lot on their minds, as well as a number of tasks to take care of. When you send your condolence card, be sure to include your return address, so the individual can send a thank you card back to you easily. This small sentiment will be greatly appreciated.
In addition to sending a condolence card, it is acceptable, and even recommended in some cases, to send food or flowers to the home. Sending follow-up "thinking of you" cards in the weeks and months after the funeral is a good way to show your friend or loved one that you realise the continual need for support and comfort, even after the memorial services have been held.