Things to write in a tragic death sympathy card

Updated April 17, 2017

Sympathy card messages can be especially difficult to write when an untimely or tragic death is involved. We are all shaken by an unexpected tragedy and may feel frightened, devastated or grief-stricken even if we were not close to the person who has passed away. When someone we care about is affected by a tragic death, we want to let him know we are thinking of him and wish him well. A thoughtfully-composed sympathy card will do just that.

Go With the "Old-fashioned Way"

Although some experts in etiquette now say that it is "acceptable" to send messages of sympathy via e-mail, sending a condolence message in this manner is not nearly as thoughtful as taking pen to paper and physically writing out an old-fashioned message. Whether it's in a sympathy card or you've just composed your own thoughts in a letter, the bereaved will appreciate that you took the time to sit down and write a message.

Don't Worry About the Details

In times of tragedy, people are not concerned with utmost propriety. Rather than delay sending out your sympathy card because you're unsure of how the deceased's wife spells her name, just address it to "The Wilson Family." Instead of allowing weeks to pass because you just haven't had time to stop at the card shop and select a sympathy card, write out a brief "thinking of you" message on your personal stationery.

Write a Simple Message

Actually writing the message in a tragic death sympathy card can be the most difficult thing of all. You need to convey a message that sounds genuine and not trite. Don't get stuck worrying about crafting the perfect message. The most important aspect of sympathy cards is that they let the grieving know that you care about them and are thinking of them. Try simple messages, such as: "I am so terribly sorry for your loss," "Please accept my deepest sympathy at this difficult time" or "I was deeply saddened to hear of Rebecca's passing." If you knew the deceased, feel free to share an uplifting memory of her or to write of how much she meant to you and how much she will be missed. Offer help if you desire. People who have lost a loved one often need someone to bring food, watch children, care for pets or even do simple things, such as take a walk with them. Sign off with a closing that is appropriate to your relationship with the bereaved: "Warm regards" for someone you are not as close to, perhaps, or "With Love and Sympathy" for a friend or relative. If you do not know the bereaved, do be sure to specify your relationship with the deceased: "In sympathy, Catherine, Rebecca's co-worker from Jefferson Industries."

What Not to Say

We all let friendships lapse and lose touch with family members, and sometimes when a tragic death occurs, we feel guilty for allowing this to happen. But a sympathy card is not the appropriate place to apologise for not having called lately or to reference a long-standing estrangement between you and the bereaved. Likewise, it is not the appropriate time to mention any disagreements between you and the deceased. Another thing to avoid in tragic death sympathy cards is tired clich├ęs, such as "It was for the best" or "Time heals all wounds." Also, unless you know the bereaved well and consider it appropriate, avoid making references to religion, such as "He's with God now" or "God needed another angel."

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About the Author

Amanda Lynch has been writing professionally for print and online publications since 2000. With a master's degree in health communication, her background includes patient counseling, community health and script development. Lynch specializes in covering topics related to health and wellness, women's issues and parenting.