Even though most of us write notes and emails dozens of times a day, composing a note of condolence can be one of the more difficult things you will ever have to write. When it happened to me recently, I dug out some old notes from medical school. I thought I would share a few tips on how to write an appropriate and meaningful condolence note.
Your letter or note should:
- Be a source of comfort for the family
- Offer tribute to the deceased
- Be sent within two weeks of the death
- Be hand-written
- Be sincere
Here is what you will need to include:
Acknowledge the loss
- Let the bereaved know how you learned of the death and how you felt upon hearing the news.
- Use the name of the deceased: “I was so sad to hear from my nurse that your mother, Doris DeFusco, has died.”
- Note special qualities of the deceased such as courage, sensitivity, humor, devotion, faith, or generosity.
- Try something like: “I will miss her wonderful smile and sense of humor.”
Talk about how the deceased touched your life
- Use specific examples: “I remember when your mother would bring cookies to my staff and me during the holidays.”
- Remind the bereaved of their strengths such as patience, optimism, faith, resilience, and strength.
- Write something like: “I was impressed by the devotion you and your family showed your mother during her illness.”
Offer specific help
- Don’t say: “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.”
- Do say: “I’d be happy to babysit for you this week, or run some errands for you.”
- If you are a physician, you might say: “I’m available to talk to you anytime about your mother’s illness.”
End with a note of sympathy:
- “I will never forget your mother.”
Above all, just do it. It might be the most important letter you ever write.