How to Write a Condolence Letter

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:

  1. Be a source of comfort for the family
  2. Offer tribute to the deceased
  3. Be sent within two weeks of the death
  4. Be hand-written
  5. 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.