By Nicola Stretton
It's often hard to know what to say to someone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one. However, a grieving person will always be touched to know that people are thinking of them in their time of sorrow. A sympathy letter can be a great comfort and is the perfect way to let the mourner know they're in your thoughts, without being overwhelming.
Most people will buy a generic condolence card and send it without a second thought. Make sure yours is different. Get hold of some good quality writing paper and hand-write a personalised note. Never send an email or text message; it's far too impersonal.
Write your letter in the same 'voice' you would use when speaking to the person. Express your heartfelt shock and/or sadness at their loss, but don't be overly dramatic or you'll risk sounding insincere. You might like to include a comforting poem or song lyric you think they would appreciate.
Your two main objectives will be to offer a tribute to the deceased and comfort and support to the grieving. Imagine you're in their shoes – what would you want someone to say to you?
Here are some basic guidelines:
1. Don't shy away from the situation – acknowledge that someone has died. Refer to that person by name and express your sympathy at their passing. Let the family know how much their loved one will be missed.
2. Write about the person's best qualities (were they very compassionate? Always ready to lend a helping hand?) and recount your favourite memory of them. A happy, humorous story will probably be the most appreciated, and show that you remember them fondly.
3. Offer help, even if it's just a shoulder to cry on – but try to be more specific. Maybe you could drive them to the supermarket for their weekly shop, or look after the children for a few days. Make sure you follow through with your offer if it's accepted.
4. End with a few sympathetic words, such as “You are in my thoughts”. If they are religious you could say something like “May God bless you and your family at this difficult time”.
5. Send your letter as soon as possible – within a week or two of the death is ideal. Don't expect a reply and certainly don't be upset if you don't receive one. Remember that the person is grieving and may want to be alone. Just rest in the knowledge that your letter of sympathy will bring them much-needed comfort and may help their healing process.