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Sympathy Letters

© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

Chicago, Illinois 60615 (773) 405-5916

How to Write a Sympathy Letter

Condolence and sympathy cards are widely available. But, in some cases, a letter of sympathy or condolence is more appropriate. Plus, they are more personal because you can tailor the message to the circumstances and persons involved.

Condolence letters are sent only in the event of death. Sympathy letters, however, are appropriate for many losses or traumatic experiences including loss of loved ones; loss of possessions from fire, natural disasters, and theft; loss of job; bankruptcy; and divorce.

How to Write It

A sympathy or condolence letter should contain simple language and direct, genuine expressions of sadness and compassion (e.g., "I'm sorry for your loss."). It should not be too brief or too long. The length, however, will depend on how well you know the person and how many positive things you'd like to say. But, in times of loss and devastation, people are overburdened. So a lengthy letter might be overwhelming.

A sympathy or condolence letter for someone you have a personal relationship with should be handwritten (if possible) because it sets a warmer tone. Type written letters are appropriate for business associates such as clients, colleagues, customers, and employees, particularly if you don't have a close association with the recipient.

What to Say

Things Not to Say

Sympathy and condolence letters can be difficult to write because no words can take away a grieving or traumatized person's pain. But these letters may bring some comfort, and they show recipients that you care. These suggestions can help you write a sympathy or condolence letter that is appropriate, compassionate, and sensitive to the needs of the recipient.


Rosalie Maggio and Jack Griffin. 2001 & 1998. The Big Book of How to Say It. New York, New York: Prentice Hall.