How to Write a Sympathy Note

I wrote my first sympathy note when I was a teenager. One of my teachers lost a daughter to a mysterious illness. I had no idea how to write such a note. I definitely wanted to write the right thing; in these circumstances, you never want to upset the recipient more and can only hope to offer some consolation in simply expressing that you care enough to write a brief note.

So off I trudged to the library and consulted with the guru of all things polite and proper, Emily Post, to find out how to write a sympathy note. I remember a few things from what I learned that day.

Tact, sympathy, and honesty in a sympathy note

Be tactfully honest. I didn't know this girl very well so I didn't pretend to. I spoke honestly of what I did know.

I expressed my sympathy with the grieving family, especially her father who was my teacher. I was honest here also, as in "I cannot imagine the enormity of your sorrow."

I said something positive in my sympathy note. This teacher was a very strict man, he had strong principles and expected his students to live up to them. I found some words that related this to his daughter, how proud he must be, she was so honest and careful in how she lived. I did remember that she was kind, and mentioned that it seemed she was kind to everyone who knew her.

I closed by saying that my thoughts and prayers would be with him and his family through this difficult time.

Keeping the sympathy note appropriate, personal, and thoughtful

If I had known this family better, I might have been able to offer help of some sort, but since I didn't, that was inappropriate.

I wrote this sympathy note by hand, and hand delivered it to my teacher in person, as I did not even know his address to mail it. I did this because it just felt right, and it turns out this is what Emily Post suggested also. At the time, the only other alternative I had was a typewriter, and that seemed cold. Even a Hallmark card didn't seem right.

I felt that my own words, difficult as they were to find, were the best response to such a personal tragedy. So I suggest the same to you, no matter how "bad" a writer you think you are or how hard it is to find the right words. What will be appreciated is the time you took to struggle and search in your heart for your own words. In writing a sympathy note especially, it truly is the thought that counts.

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