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sympathy card etiquette

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condolence etiquette tips

Sending or writing condolences is an incredibly hard thing to do. You have to try and find the words to show how sorry you are for losing someone special to them.

And let’s be honest – what words could possibly hope to do that? It is impossible to think a few sentences expressing your sadness for someone’s loss and letting them know you’re thinking of them could alleviate any pain and anguish they’re suffering.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Whilst you can’t stop the pain and grief that losing someone brings, your words and the kindness you show will have more of an impact than you realise.

Which is why we offer our condolences, show sympathy and be there for those mourning a passed loved one.

So if you’re feeling nervous and aren’t sure about the etiquette surrounding condolences then keep reading. We’re going to go through how to write them, who they’re for, what to say, when to send them and where, and much more.

What does Condolences Mean?

Sending condolences is when you express your sympathy for someone’s loss. You send your condolences by offering sympathy and kind words to comfort them after losing a loved one. It shows you are thinking of and care about them as they mourn and grieve the loss of someone special.

Condolence or Condolences: Which is Correct?

Both are acceptable but the plural of the word – ‘condolences’ – is the much more commonly used term. You would probably say “please accept my deepest condolences” rather than “please accept my deepest condolence”. Condolences are like feelings – you have more than one, so we say and write it that way.

When to Send Condolences

You should try to send your condolences as quickly as you can. So send some flowers, a card or condolence message as soon as you learn of the death of their loved one. If you know when the funeral is then you can also send a card or note a few days before that as well.

If for some reason you are unable to send your condolences at the time of the passing then you can still do so at a later date. A late message is better than none.

For examples of what to say if you’re late with your message and the etiquette around it try our belated condolence messages.

Who Do you Say My Condolences to?

If you are sending a condolence message or card for someone you knew well but didn’t know their family then you should send it to the closest relative to the deceased. So their children or widowed partner.

If you are sending your sympathy card to the grieving family but didn’t know the deceased then you address it to them rather than whoever it was that passed away.

How to Send a Condolence Message

There are different ways you can send condolence messages:

  • The most usual is in a card, either on it’s own or with flowers/a gift. Condolence or sympathy cards can be bought in many places, both in store and online, or you could send an eCard. Whichever you choose there will be space or the option to include a condolence message
  • A note or letter is also an acceptable way of sending your condolences. This will usually be longer than a simple sympathy message and possibly include more personal details or memories of the deceased
  • You can also send a condolence email. An email is a good choice for different types of people that aren’t your close friends or family – your boss, for example
  • A text message may seem impersonal but as everyone uses their phones so much and texts for most things it’s not seem as being unusual or rude. If you can then a card or letter is preferable but if there’s no other option then a text is acceptable
  • Facebook is used to by virtually everyone nowadays so sharing a message of sympathy on there is also a good way to reach someone you don’t know that well
  • And of course you can always offer your condolences in person

MORE READING:

Appropriate Phrases to use as Condolences

  • I am so sorry for your loss
  • My deepest condolences to you and your family
  • You are in our thoughts and prayers
  • You have my most sincere sympathy for your tragic loss
  • My heart aches for you. I am deeply sorry
  • [names] memory will live on in our hearts, forever
  • My heartfelt sympathy for such a terrible loss
  • If there is anything I can do to help just let me know. I will be there for you
  • [name] will be remembered so warmly by us all
  • I just wanted to reach out and say I’m thinking if you during such a difficult time

MORE READING:

my deepest condolences to you and your family

Can you Say Deepest Condolences

Yes. If you are trying to find the right words for a condolence message then saying something like please accept my deepest condolences for your loss is a good choice of words to comfort someone.

How Late can you Send a Condolence Card

It is never too late to send a condolence message or card to show someone you are thinking of them after a loss. Yes, it’s preferable to do it as soon as you can but it’s better to express those feelings belatedly rather than say nothing at all.

Do you Put Kisses on a Condolence or Sympathy Card

Yes, you definitely can do so if you think it’s appropriate and you know the recipient or family well. If they are more like acquaintances then you may think it a little too informal or inappropriate considering you aren’t close. Use your judgement on each case.

Is it Appropriate to Send Money in a Condolence Card

Giving money or a donation with a condolence card is a very thoughtful gesture. Sometimes people give charitable donations on behalf of the deceased or money to the family to help with the funeral costs. Whatever you choose you can include a short message letting the family know the money is for wherever they see fit.

You shouldn’t feel pressured into including money with your condolences but if you can, and you feel it’s appropriate, then it is a lovely thought and will no doubt be appreciated.

Do you Send Thank You Cards for Condolences

When you receive a sympathy or condolence card it is polite to reply or respond with a thank you note. This is especially true if someone has helped in some way, be that sending a gift or flowers, a donation or assisted with the funeral, for example.

Is Condolence only used for Death

The word condolence and it’s meaning can be used for anything where someone is suffering. It is an expression of sympathy and while mostly used when someone has suffered a loss it is also suitable when someone is unwell, lost their job or a relationship has ended. When you use it you are showing understanding of their situation and empathy, sharing in their pain.

For some examples of condolences being used other than for the death of someone see these articles:

Conclusion

Sending your condolences is a kind gesture when someone has suffered a loss. But it can be fraught with difficult manners and etiquette to navigate.

It’s no surprise many of us feel nervous about what to say and how to say it. Hopefully this guide will have answered any questions you have and made you a lot more comfortable when reaching out to friends or family to offer your condolences.

condolence etiquette tips

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When sending a sympathy card there can be worry about the correct protocol or ways in which to do things. There are no set rules to this but we can offer some guidelines that you may wish to follow in order to avoid causing any offense or upsetting the recipient.

These are by no means the only things to consider when sending your sympathy card, and you may find that some do not apply to your situation. But you should be able to use them as a starting point for what may or may not be considered appropriate.

If you are worried about certain aspects of the process of sending a sympathy card, some of the topics covered here should help to allay some of your fears when it comes to the correct sympathy card etiquette.

If you are looking for more ideas and help with what to write in a sympathy card, and what is the right thing to say for different people (friends, family, acquaintances etc.) try our Sympathy Card Writing Tips

How Long Should I Wait Before Sending a Sympathy Card?

There is no set answer to this. You should endeavor to send it as soon as you hear of the passing, but you can also wait a little while too if you are worried it may seem rather quick. Even if you have the opportunity to speak to them face to face though still send a card.

When Has too Much Time Passed to Send a Sympathy Card?

If possible then you will want to send a card or note as quickly as possible. But you may not hear of the passing until a later date, and that could be months after it has happened.

If that is the case then it is still a good idea to send a some form of card or message to let the person know you are thinking of them. If you don’t then they may think you have just ignored the death and don’t care about it. Later is better than never.

Obviously if many years have gone by then it would be a little strange for you to send something, but if it’s still only months, or even a year then you can be confident it isn’t too late and the effort would be appreciated.

Can I Send an Email or Text Message as a Sympathy Message? Or do it via Twitter/Facebook?

NO! It doesn’t take much effort to purchase a sympathy card from a shop or online, or even to write a short message on some blank stationary. Even if you learned the news of the deceased on social media it is still not a good idea to send your condolences that way, especially if you knew the person well.

However, once you’ve sent a card/note then you may express your sympathies again over social media. Remember though – the first thing you should do is send some form of sympathy card.

Can I Offer them Support?

Yes, but you must make sure your gesture is then backed up. Do not offer something you cannot deliver on. For example, if you offered to babysit for them or help with the funeral arrangements, you have to follow through on that.

Get in contact after your offer of support and repeat it, maybe even in person, so that they can take you up on your offer without feeling guilty about having to ask. So think about whether you can genuinely help before promising to do so. You must not offer to help and then just disappear. An empty gesture is much worse then no offer of help.

Can I Say Anything Religious?

This will have to be based entirely on your own judgement. Only you know the person you are sending the card to, and whether something religious will be appropriate or offensive to them.

Using religious quotes or verses when you know them to be an atheist, for example, would not be a good idea. But for the most part saying something like “you are in my prayers” is not likely to cause any offense.

The last thing you would want to do in their time of grief is start pushing your own religious belief onto them. Of course if you know they share the same beliefs as you then it would be completely appropriate to use religious wording.

But overall if you are in any doubt then avoid overtly religious messages and keep it simple.

Are Flowers Enough?

If you are sending flowers then there is a good chance they will come with a note. However, it is considered better to send your own separate card or note as it will allow you greater space to express your true feelings.

It is not a good idea to rely solely on the printed note that will come with the flowers, unless the shop you have ordered the flowers from will let you write your own. To be on the safe side though, try to send your own card as well as the flowers.

Should I Send Money or a Gift?

For the most part this should be avoided. It would, to a lot of people, be considered offensive. Unless you know otherwise that the person receiving it would appreciate some form of gift or money then it should be avoided.

Some people do struggle with medical bills or funeral costs, so a gift of money could be extremely helpful as a one off. You need to be careful though as it could easily be misconstrued that money or presents can bring consolation for a loss. Stick to flowers and a card if you aren’t sure.

The exception to this is when you make a donation in honor of the deceased. A charitable donation that is requested by the family would definitely be a touching gesture and an acceptable way of sending a monetary gift.

Do you Send Sympathy Cards to Family Members or Relatives?

Family members don’t usually send sympathy cards to each other. So no, you don’t have to send a card to close family members. The loss of an immediate family member often means the rest of the family grieve together, in person, and so a sympathy card wouldn’t be necessary.

If the loss is a relative that you wouldn’t consider extremely close – a cousin for example – then it may be more appropriate to send a card in this situation. Offering your condolences and letting them know you’re thinking of them is a touching gesture and likely to be appreciated.

Should you Send a Sympathy Card if you go to the Funeral?

A sympathy card or note is often sent to the family if you aren’t able attend the funeral. However there are situations where it is accepted. For example you may attend but also send flowers to the funeral or home of the family of the deceased.

A card usually accompanies those flowers. So in this instance you would both go to the funeral and send a card. And realistically showing your sympathy in both a card and as a funeral attendee is unlikely to cause offence. In fact it shows you care even more deeply.

Other Things You Can Do

  • Sending an anniversary card for the person’s passing as well as a sympathy card. When the anniversary of a death comes around then the feelings of loss and grief will return for the loved one’s. Sending a card on the anniversary to show that you are still thinking of them and are there for support. You may even want to buy a card for this when you are buying the original sympathy card and then put some sort of reminder for the year anniversary.
  • Try not to worry about your words failing to express the correct sentiments. By sending a card you will show how much you care, and even if you words don’t quite match the way you feel, it will still be appreciated.

Other Things NOT to Say or Do

  • There are still some phrases you will want to avoid saying in your card. Things like “I know how you feel”, “at least they lived a long life”, “you need to be strong” etc. These are all inappropriate and not the sort of thing to say to someone grieving. As has been said previously in this article, keep it simple.
  • Don’t dwell on the circumstances around the death. When grieving, the last thing anyone wants to have to do is re-live the death of their loved one. Avoid mentioning this and just offer them condolences and support.

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