Writing a letter of condolence is a difficult task. However, it is important not to avoid sending a note or letter through diffidence or reluctance. The recipient will greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness of a letter. If you do not know the person who died very well, a card with a short note enclosed is the best approach. Alternatively, if you know the person well, a longer letter including memories and anecdotes is a more personal touch. Avoid platitudes and euphemisms for death. Instead, write what you would say if you bumped into the deceased's family or partner on the street.
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Write all your thoughts and feelings about the deceased in draft format if you knew the person well. Include anecdotes and perhaps a few funny moments that the deceased's family and friends will not know about. Be positive, genuine and personal. Reflect on what you have written.
Craft your thoughts into a letter. Do not worry too much about structure or perfect grammar. Instead, concentrate on getting your personal message across in a heartfelt way.
Offer support in the letter if you feel it is the right thing to do. For instance, you could offer to give a lift to the shops if the person does not drive or you could suggest meeting up for a coffee for company at a later date.
Buy a sympathy card with a suitable message if you did not know the deceased well or if you are struggling to find the right words in a letter. Another option is to make a card to make it more personal. Avoid the typical boiler-plate sympathy messages if you can.
Tips and warnings
- A short note will be appreciated as much as a long letter as it shows you care and have taken the time and trouble to write.
- Do not skirt around mentioning death or dying but be sensitive.
- Avoid text or email. Taking a more formal approach by writing letter is best.
- Do not be too gushing or sentimental in your letter of condolence. Think of how the recipient, who is dealing with her own grief, will feel when she reads it.
- Think twice about including overtly religious messages, poems or quotations with your letter unless you know that they would be welcome.
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