You send a condolence letter to express sympathy to someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Because these messages are sent to people who are still grieving, they can be difficult to write. However, there are guidelines to help you craft an effective and sensitive letter to bring comfort to the recipient.
Recipients and Timing
You should send a condolence message to a friend or colleague who has suffered a loss, regardless of whether you had a relationship with the person who died. You also can send a condolence message to the family of a deceased person with whom you had a relationship even if you don't know the family members. You should send a condolence letter within the first few weeks after you learn of the death.
Start a condolence message with a simple but heartfelt expression of your sympathy. Use words such as "I was sorry to hear of the passing of your father," which is clear and sets the tone for the rest of the message. If you knew the deceased, share a recollection about the person, which can provide comfort to the grieving family. For example, if the deceased helped you through a time of turmoil in your life, you might write, "Your father was so kind to me when I was going through my divorce." If you didn't know the person, convey your sympathy in a more general way to let the family know you're thinking about them. Conclude the letter by expressing your support. If you plan to visit the recipient, suggest a specific time for that visit.
Things to Avoid
A condolence message should be concise because the grieving family is likely to receive many of these letters. Avoid writing things such as "I know how you feel," even if you have experienced a similar loss, because every person processes grief differently. Refrain from expressing any overtly religious sentiments unless you know the recipient's religious beliefs and are certain such expressions are welcome. Do not write that the loss is a "blessing," or that the deceased is in a "better place," even in instances when a person battled a long illness, because his absence is still very painful to the survivors.
Stationery and Style
Write condolence messages on clean white stationery, or choose a subtle colour such as grey, light blue or beige. Bold colours might not be appropriate for this type of occasion. Hand write the message in ink; this personal touch is more comforting than printing a note from your computer. However, if you're sending the condolence message on behalf of a government agency or corporation, then a typed letter is appropriate.