How to Write a Condolence Letter or Sympathy Note

When and how to show your sympathy in a letter

A condolence letter is a note expressing your sympathy. It can be a great source of comfort for someone grieving the loss of a loved one. A condolence letter is a simple but powerful gesture that lets someone know they're in your thoughts during a difficult time.

Finding the right words to say when someone's mourning a death can be hard. This article explains why you might want to write a condolence letter, offers basic guidelines to follow, and includes a sample note that you can reference when writing your own condolence letter.

writing a condolence letter
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Reasons to Write a Condolence Letter

It's easy to pick up a mass-produced sympathy card from a local store, but writing one with your own personal, heartfelt words is often more meaningful. A condolence card shows a person who is mourning that they matter to you. 

Taking the time to handwrite a letter can comfort someone who has lost a loved one. Writing a personal letter also gives you the chance to share a special memory you might have of the deceased. You can also take this time to offer to talk or help in the weeks and months ahead.

Condolence Letter vs. Sympathy Note

The difference between a condolence letter and a sympathy note is the length. For example, a note might be a few sentences, while letters could be a few paragraphs.

It's your choice which you choose to write and depends on your relationship with the person. You may find you start out writing a note and end up feeling the need to say a lot more.

Offer Support

Too often, people say, "Call me if you need me." While it may be well-meaning, offering help in this way puts the burden of calling on the person who is grieving.

Instead, be specific about how you can lend a hand. For example, you might write, "Can I bring dinner over next Wednesday?" or "I'd love to mow your lawn next week."

Stay in Touch

Many people find that they are surrounded by love in the days surrounding their loss, but as the weeks and months go on, they become more alone and isolated in their grieving.

In the first few weeks following a loved one's death, it's not uncommon for people to feel like they're still mourning, but everyone else seems to have forgotten. In addition to writing a condolence note right after a person has died, you may want to note on your calendar a time to follow up. For example, you might want to send another note or call in a couple of months to check in with the person who is grieving. 

So, in addition to writing an initial condolence note, you may also wish to mark your calendar for, say three months and six months from now. Then, you can make contact again.

When Not to Write a Letter

Condolence letters can be a great comfort to people who have experienced a loss, but it’s not always appropriate for you to send one. You need to think about your relationship with the person who died as well as their loved ones. 

For example, a lengthy condolence letter could be too personal if you were barely acquainted and don’t know their loved ones at all. In some cases (for example, after the death of a coworker), a short note might do.

You also need to be honest about and respect what your relationship was like. If it was complicated or negative, a condolence letter could feel intrusive. To avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, you could honor the person’s memory in a less personal way—for example, anonymously contributing to a memory fund they’ve set up or sending flowers to the funeral home.

A study looking at people who died in the intensive care unit found that sympathy letters written by a healthcare provider did not reduce their loved ones’ grief. In fact, it actually made their depression symptoms worse.

Condolence Letter Guidelines

Deciding to write a letter is often easier than actually writing it. Here are some tips on when, where, and how to write and send a condolence letter.

When to Write

Try to write and send your sympathy letter as soon as possibleideally, within the first two weeks after a person dies. 

If you've passed that time, still write a note. It may even be extra helpful to loved ones who are still grieving even though they feel like the rest of the world has forgotten or “moved on” from a person’s death.

How to Write

Don’t pressure yourself to write the note you’re going to send on your first try. You can do a few practice runs until it feels right.

Here are a few tips for writing a condolence letter:

  • Handwrite your note. Personally written notes are rare in today's world of emails and texts and can be especially meaningful to someone who is going through something painful and might be feeling alone in the world. Use stationery or nice paper to write your note. 
  • Put a letter inside a card. If you want to use a store-bought card, tuck your handwritten letter inside the card. If the card has enough space, you can write your note inside it. 
  • Be authentic. Write your letter in your own voice, reflecting how you would normally talk to the person. You don’t need to get fancy or try to come up with a poem or verse. That said, you might find that reading quotations about grief, loss, or mourning can serve as inspiration as you’re trying to find your own words.

6 Components of a Condolence Letter

Condolence letters have six parts.

  1. Acknowledge the loss. When you’re talking about the person who died, refer to them by name. It can be comforting for the person’s family to see and hear their loved one’s name. Don’t skirt around death or use a euphemism (remember, the person you’re writing to knows that their loved one has died).
  2. Express your sympathy. "I'm sorry for your loss" is a common expression used to show sympathy. It works because it’s clear and honest.
  3. Note a special quality. Sharing something positive about the person who has died—for example, a talent or skill—helps make the note more personal. 
  4. Include a memory. If you have a favorite memory of the person who has died, sharing it with their loved ones can help them build up their own memory stores.
  5. Remind the bereaved of their own strengths. A grieving person may feel lost, helpless, or alone. Try to remind them of their own qualities that can help them cope during this hard time, such as their faith, optimism, or resiliency.
  6. Offer to help. "Let me know if I can help" is too vague. Instead, offer a practical and specific thing you can do—for example, “I can stop by on Tuesday night to bring dinner for your family."
  7. End with a hopeful, thoughtful sign-off. Avoid using the standard sign-offs at the end of your letter, such as "sincerely," "love," or “fondly." Instead, end with active, hopeful thoughts like "with you in prayer each moment," "you are in my thoughts," or "I will always be here to support you." These statements reflect your ongoing sympathy and support. 

How to Deliver

Funeral or burial services typically take place within the first couple of weeks after a person dies. 

If you will be going to the service, you can bring your condolence letter with you. There is often a basket or collection box for sympathy cards at the service.

You can mail your note, but remember that many tasks have to be done following a death. Therefore, a deceased person’s loved one may not open your note right away. 

Putting a sympathy card in a basket at a memorial service allows them to read through condolences at a time they feel ready.

A Sample Condolence Letter

Here’s a sample condolence letter to help you organize your thoughts. 

You do not need to follow the template exactly. You may only want to use parts of it. You can reorganize, add, or delete sections as you write your letter.


Dear _____________,

[Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name]
I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of _____________.

[Express your sympathy]
I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for you, but please know that I care about you. (Keep in mind, you really have no idea how the person is feeling, and they will find comfort in knowing that you are aware of that).

[Note one or more of the deceased's special qualities]
____________ was such a kind, gentle soul who would _________ [example: …help lift someone’s spirits, help a friend in need, help a child, etc…]

[Include your favorite memory]
I remember the time that _________________. 

[Offer to help the survivor in a specific way]
Maybe you could use your scrapbooking talent to make a memory book of _________________? If you would like, I can come over on [suggested date, time] to help you put it together. I have some wonderful pictures of _______________ that I'd love to share with you as well as several personal memories of how they [example: …helped my family].

[End with a thoughtful hope, wish, or sympathy expression]
[Name] was so loved and will be missed by so many. 

Please know that I will always be here to support you,

[Sign your name] _____________________ 

How to Write a Sympathy Note

A handwritten sympathy note is a shorter version of a condolence letter. It can be just as meaningful and is often a nice touch to include inside a sympathy card.

When writing a condolence note, pick just a few elements from the steps to writing a condolence letter. For example:

  1. Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name
  2. Express your sympathy
  3. Note one or more of the deceased's special qualities
  4. End with a thoughtful hope, wish, or a genuine expression of sympathy


A condolence letter is a way to express your sympathy and offer support to loved ones after someone dies. However, think about your relationship with the person who has died and their loved ones. In some cases, it might be better to just write a shorter sympathy note. 

Don’t feel pressured to get too fancy. Heartfelt words and specific offers of help will be welcomed by people who are grieving. While you want to try to get your letter to your loved ones within the first couple of weeks after a person dies, you can still send it later. 

Letters or other check-ins that come in the months after a person has died are often reassuring and comforting for loved ones who might be feeling that the world has forgotten or moved on after a person’s death. 

You can use a few or none of the components shown above in your sympathy letter. The most important thing is that you write from your heart.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kentish-Barnes N, Chevret S, Champigneulle B, et al. Effect of a condolence letter on grief symptoms among relatives of patients who died in the ICU: a randomized clinical trial. Intensive Care Med. 2017;43(4):473-484. doi:10.1007/s00134-016-4669-9

  2. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. How to write a condolence letter.

By Angela Morrow, RN
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.