Words of Sympathy for the Loss of Father
How To Write A Heartfelt Sympathy Card
When my parents passed away last year, I received a lot of sympathy cards, but one in particular really stood out. Just days before my dad passed—I had no idea the end was near—I posted a photo of my dad, myself, and my kids on Facebook with the caption "Three generations of love." (Speaking of, here are 7 appropriate ways to handle grief on Facebook after losing a loved one). My friend printed that photo with the caption and pasted it in a card she sent me. I still have that card today. Not only do I love the photo and the sentiment, but I loved that I have a friend who took the time to something so sweet and thoughtful.
It got me thinking about sympathy cards and how important they are. The challenge is people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, they often do nothing. We talked to the experts on how to write a heartfelt sympathy card. Here's what to include (or leave out). (Pick up some healthier habits, weight loss tips, clean recipes and more by signing up for Prevention's FREE newsletters.)
"Grieving families are overwhelmed with decisions and feelings and this can often be a confusing time for them," says Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor who runs a private practice outside Chicago. The person you're sending the note to may know many Katies or Rachels, so "be sure to clearly identify yourself—use your surname if you are not an immediate family member, and make sure your return address is available on the envelope." If the grieving person knows you by your maiden name, feel free to include that, too, for clarification.
MORE:I'm A Professional Cuddler. This Is What A Week In My Life Is Like
In terms of timing, Derichs suggests sending a note as soon as you hear about the death. I received my friend's note with the photo soon after my dad passed, and it really meant a lot to me. You don't even have to buy a special sympathy card: "You could always compose a note on personal stationery," says Derichs.
She also suggests writing something specific in the note about the person who passed, such as "I am so sorry for your loss. I remember when, (share a memory of the deceased, however small)." This lets the mourner know that the person who passed was loved or cherished by more than just his or her immediate family.
If you want to help out in some tangible way, be specific and remember to follow up. You can say something like, "I am here for you and I will check in with you next week." Derichs says to avoid saying "If you need anything, let me know," as most people will not ask. It's much better to say "I'll come and take you out for coffee or a walk," or "I'll bring you dinner next Tuesday night." (And if you need any ideas, here are 16 comforting casseroles to bring to a grieving friend).
It might also be nice to do something different than everyone else. If, for example, the community is gathering to help the family with meals, consider something other than a casserole. "Offering to mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow, or wash the cars can be helpful," says Stephanie Hartselle, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University.
You can also close the sympathy note by reassuring the person grieving takes time. Candyce Ossefort-Russell, a licensed professional counselor with the DEEP Center for Counseling and Psychotherapy Training in Austin, also suggests including an ending line such as, "Be kind to yourself—grief takes time, and you deserve good care. I'll continue to hold you in my heart."
What not to do
As natural as it might seem, "avoid any comparison to any loss you've had in your life. This is this family's time to grieve, not a time for you to make this about your experiences," says Hartselle. (Here are 8 things NOT to say when your friend is grieving.)
Also, sometimes less is more. "I advise people against expressing that the deceased is in a better place or is relieved of pain, as the family may not believe this or feel this way," says Hartselle. If you don't know what to say, keep it short and sweet.
MORE: 7 Worst Things You Can Do When You're Grieving
And much as you want to say the right thing, don't obsess about it so much that you end up not doing anything. "There are no magic words, but most people appreciate honesty and caring and will remember that more than what you say," says Mary Kelly Blakeslee, PhD, a licensed psychologist based in New Jersey.
Video: How to Write a Sympathy Card
Coconut Cream and Raspberry Jam Pie
So, You Think You Have PMS
10 Pieces That Will Have You Street Style Ready
9 Ways To Be More Creative
New Car Smell Could Be Toxic
Pasta with Spring Vegetables
Why We Work Less in the Summer
10 Last Minute Christmas Recipes
The Merriest Christmas TV Episodes to Watch Between Meals, Presents, and Holiday Cheer
These are the names parents regret giving their babies
How to Have a Healthy, Balanced Teenage Girl Life
How to Cope With Being Blind
3 Ways to Say Grace
60 Overwhelming Ideas for Short Choppy Haircuts