Expressing sympathy: how to write a condolence letter

At this moment, I feel death surrounds us more so than ever before. Perhaps it’s because I now visit the BBC News page every morning. The state of the world is getting us down. I am writing this post with the hope that it would help people at a time when delicacy is paramount.

A letter of condolence should be written and sent promptly, preferably within two weeks of hearing the news. Where possible, use stationery rather than a store-bought card. And a handwritten letter is more personal and sincere compared with a typed one.

Almost without exception, one writes to the next of kin who you are closest friends with. For instance, if you are friends with both the wife and daughter of the deceased, usually the letter would be addressed to the wife. However, if the daughter no longer lives in the family home, it is best to write to both individually. This is the case where you should be concerned for every individual.

Refer to the deceased by name in your letter. Do mention personal anecdotes and memories of the deceased. It will be a source of comfort to the grieving person to know that their loved one was treasured. Only offer future help or assistance if it is sincere, and you are in a position to do so.

It is acceptable to write to the family even if you have never met them before, for example, the family of a colleague. I once saw a sympathy letter with ‘this letter does not require a response’ in the postscript. I’m not quite sure I’d word it that way, but saying something to this effect can be helpful as it is often very difficult to reply to someone who is unknown to us.

As an example, let’s say you are writing a letter of sympathy to you family friend Tess on the death of her husband, Philip. Write your letter thus:

Photo from

Dear Tante Tess,

I am saddened to hear that Philip has passed away. I will always remember how much he loved going to The Proms, and he even took my brother and me with him the last two years.

I know Philip drove you to gospel choir practice. I would be glad to take you if you like.

Thinking of you,

I hope this post was helpful in some small way. Do leave a comment below if you’d like me to write about how to respond to a letter of condolence.

Yours faithfully,


One thought on “Expressing sympathy: how to write a condolence letter

  1. Pingback: Scrisoare deschisa catre presa | realitate cenzurata

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