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sympathy etiquette

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how to address a sympathy card

When you send a sympathy card to someone who has suffered a loss you probably spend most of your time on the message. That makes sense – it’s the words of sympathy you choose that they will read and hopefully take comfort from.

But how you address a sympathy card is important too. Who the intended recipient of the card is, who the deceased was, and both their relationship to you and the receiver will make a difference to how you address your card. Also the type of language that you use – formal vs informal, for example – is influenced by the same things.

And that’s without even touching on some of the etiquette of sending a sympathy card. So there’s a little more to think about than just the name of who it’s going to.

So if you aren’t sure exactly how to address a sympathy card and need some help then follow this guide and the tips provided.

For some great choices of cards see the range of sympathy cards Amazon has.

How to Address a Sympathy Card

When sending a sympathy card the address is important. Depending on the recipient and how well you knew them you can follow these tips for addressing your card:

  • The usual way to address your note is to the closest relative of the deceased. So that might be the widow or widower, or one of their children.
  • Depending on how well you knew the deceased will also play a part in how you address your card. For example if you knew a relative of the the deceased well but not themselves then you would address it to that relative.
  • When a friend has lost a loved one of relative then you write and address it to them.
  • In most cases you can also put “and family” after whoever’s babe it is your addressing the card to. For example: “Mr David Jones and family”, or less formally “To David and family”.

How to Address a Sympathy Card Envelope

Addressing a sympathy card envelope is very similar to a regular letter. Write their address in the centre of the envelope the same way you usually would when sending a letter.

Remember to include your address on the envelope in the top left corner. This is allows them if they want to write back to you with a note of thanks. Also in case the letter is undelivered the postal service will be able to return it to you.

Example Address:

David Jones
2391 Patton Lane
North Carolina, NC

Example of the start of your Letter:

“Dear David,

I’m deeply sorry to learn of your loss. Your father was a wonderful man who spread such happiness wherever he went. I feel lucky to have known him”

How to Address a Sympathy Card to a Family

If you decide to write to an entire family, rather than just one member you know well, then your message should speak to every family member. Don’t focus on

You should address the card to either the whole family or both of the couple at the head of the family. For example:

The Jones Family
1045 Rockford Mountain Lane
Des Moines
Iowa, IA

Example of the start of your Letter:

“Dear Jones Family, 

It is with sadness I send this letter after the passing of your beloved grandfather. He was a kind and generous man and I feel blessed to have spent so much time with him… ”

How to Address a Sympathy Card to a Widow

When addressing a widow it’s important to be mindful of their lost husband. You may gave us tally addresses a letter to them Mrs David Jones, which under the circumstances could cause extra pain as it would remind them of their lost partner.

It can be difficult to judge this perfectly but it’s probably best to try and use your own discretion. Each person will react differently to a loss so decide how to address their card on a case by case basis.

How to Address a Sympathy Card to a Married Couple

The usual way to address a sympathy card to a married couple is both names with the male first: eg Mr and Mrs Jones. However, there are some coupes who prefer to be addressed individually or where the wife hasn’t taken their partners name.

Example Address:

Mr and Mrs Jones
810 Cliffside Drive
Haltom City
Texas, TX

Example of the start of your Letter:

“Dear David and Sarah,

I am very sorry to hear of your sons passing. He was a vibrant and amazing little boy and leaves behind such a huge hole in so many lives. I remember… ”

Do you Write ‘Dear’ or ‘to’ in a Sympathy Card?

The most usual way of staring a sympathy card is with “Dear”. “To” is also acceptable but a little less personal. “Dearest” is a good alternative and can be used without feeling like it is too informal. If none of those feel right then just beginning with the recipients name is also appropriate.

Don’t be too casual though, and bring formal is better than too informal when dealing with something as serious as a bereavement.

Sympathy Card Etiquette

For more help around the etiquette of sending a sympathy card we have some articles with tips and guides for different aspects of offering your condolences.

how to address a sympathy card

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sympathy gift etiquette

When giving a sympathy gift after someone has suffered a loss you may find yourself worrying about the correct etiquette. What’s appropriate, what isn’t, can I give money, when should I send it etc.

Navigating what’s acceptable and what’s not can be difficult. Sending a gift after a loss is a lovely gesture but you don’t want to end up doing more harm than good.

That’s why we’ve produced this guide to sympathy gift etiquette. We hope to show you the right way to go about giving or sending someone a condolence gift that avoids any possible offence or upset.

Having said that, and not wanting to contradict ourselves, you can’t go that wrong. Just by acknowledging the loss and showing you care the bereaved are going to appreciate the effort you’ve made.

But if you want to be sure of any details or if you’re a bit worried you might get something wrong then the tips and advice below will help you to avoid any unintended mistakes.

Sympathy Gift Etiquette

These are the main things to remember when giving a sympathy gift.

  • The most important thing to takeaway from this is to make the effort.
  • Show you care by giving a gift, be that money (a minimum of $30 is recommended), a present or even something like your time – chores, cooking etc.
  • A gift of service – a cleaner, helping with chores, picking the kids up from school etc is often the most useful to those grieving.
  • Food is also a great choice for a gift that the bereaved can really use and benefit from.
  • A donation in the deceased’s name is a touching gesture.
  • If you decide on a monetary gift then don’t feel the need to tell the recipients about it, just put a check or cash in a card.
  • There’s no time limit but try sending it as soon as you can.
  • And don’t be put off sending a gift to a friend even if you didn’t know the deceased.
  • sympathy gift etiquette tips

    Is a Sympathy Gift Appropriate?

    Yes. When mourning a loss it can be comforting to have friends and family reach out with their sympathy and support in the form of a gift. Knowing there are people thinking of you as you grieve can provide real comfort. So it is appropriate to send a gift to the immediate family members, or in fact any members of the family of the deceased.

    The only time when it may not be inappropriate is if there is a specific religious custom that says gifts are unacceptable.

    If you need any help deciding on a gift then try our guide to sympathy gift ideas or some unique sympathy gifts.

    Who do you to send a Sympathy Gift to?

    Who you address and send your gift to will depend to some extent on your relationship with the deceased. If it’s a friend that has lost someone then you can address it to your friend ‘and family’. If you didn’t know the deceased or the family well – they were just an acquaintance for example – then it is probably best to address it to ‘the [name] family’.

    If in doubt though then just send and address your gift to the family in general of whoever it is that has passed away.

    When do you Send a Sympathy Gift?

    The best time to send a sympathy gift is as soon as possible. If you leave it too long it could seem like you have forgotten or don’t care enough. So try to act as fast as you can. If you’re sending flowers or a memorial gift for the funeral then they should be sent on the day of the funeral service.

    Whilst as soon as you can is definitely preferable don’t be put off sending a gift even if you feel you’re late. Any time is better than never at all.

    Sometimes larger or more personalized gifts require time and planning. If that is the case then you could send a smaller gift first – just something like a card and flowers – to acknowledge the death and then the more personal gift at a later date.

    What is an Appropriate Sympathy Gift?

    There is no wrong or right answer here. If you give any sympathy gift it is going to show you’ve made an effort and that’s the most important thing. Be it flowers for the funeral, a gift basket or even a simple card, the bereaved will appreciate the gesture and knowing you care.

    A card with a few words of sympathy or condolence is the simplest way to reach out to those mourning a loss. But you may feel that doesn’t constitute a gift and prefer something more substantial.

    Sending flowers is the most traditional way to say sorry for a loss. It’s probably the safest gift you can give as you can’t really go wrong with flowers. There are so many florists, both stores and online, that cater specifically for sympathy arrangements that it’s very easy to send the bereaved family a beautiful bunch of flowers with a note to say how sorry you are.

    Food is also a good and safe choice. There are many sympathy gift baskets that offer nourishing and appetising food to those grieving.

    A personalized gift is very popular as well. You can create a photo album of the deceased, a pendant or locket with their picture or a keepsake box with special memories are just a few good options.

    You should have known the deceased well if you’re going to personalize a gift though. Otherwise it could see a little odd and be uncomfortable for the family.

    What is Appropriate to Send to a Grieving Family?

    Sending a card or letter to the family with flowers is always an appropriate gift for those grieving. It’s the most common way to express your condolences and a touching way to demonstrate your sadness for their loss.

    A charitable donation in the deceased’s name is a great way to honor them. You can send a card or note to the family with the details of what you gave and to which charity.

    A sympathy food or gift basket that could contain things like nuts, fruit and dried fruit, baked goods desserts, chocolates and more is a touching gift that also provides sustenance to those who may not feel up to cooking whilst coping with their grief.

    For even more ideas we have a guide looking at the best sympathy gift ideas for every type of loss.

    Should I Wrap Sympathy Gifts? 

    If you’re sending flowers or a card then the florists or company will take care of the packaging and how they look. If you’ve bought a gift and are going to be sending it in the post or giving it in person then wrapping it in some tasteful and fitting paper would definitely add to and make it special.

    This isn’t a necessity though and the bereaved will appreciate your gift whether you choose to wrap it or not.

    Is it Customary to Give Money in a Sympathy Card?

    It is very much acceptable to give money as a gift but not necessary. Whilst it may seem like a bit of a non-gift, and an easy way to avoid choosing something meaningful, money often turns out to be the most helpful and appreciated gift.

    That’s because losing someone can cause financial hardships to the family. Funeral expenses can be very high and if the deceased was someone who contributed to the families income then to lose that leaves a hole behind that needs filling.

    When giving money do so in the most sensitive way you can. It can be embarrassing for families to need extra help in this way and a real hit to someone’s pride. So you should do all you can to make it less uncomfortable for them.

    Try to be discreet about it and just place the cash or cheque inside a sympathy card before sending or giving it to the grieving family member. Don’t make a big deal about or draw attention to it.

    How Much Money Should you Give in a Sympathy Card?

    There aren’t any rules around the amount of money you should give. The best way to decide is to consider the situation of the deceased’s family and how much they are going to need. And of course you need to keep in mind your own finances and what you can realistically afford.

    A close relative or friend of yours will warrant a greater amount than a casual acquaintance. And a family that is struggling financially will need more than a family that is obviously comfortable or well off.

    Should I Send a Gift Even if there isn’t a Funeral Service?

    Yes, absolutely. The lack of a funeral service doesn’t mean the family of the deceased aren’t grieving. People choose to honor and pay their respects in different ways and that may sometimes not include a service. But they are still coping with a loss and so will appreciate friends and loved ones reaching out with gifts to comfort them and show people care.

    So you should still send a gift and offer you condolences for their loss.

    Should I Send a Gift if the family Requested a Charitable Donation “in Lieu of Flowers”?

    When families ask not to have flowers sent and prefer a donation that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want any sort of gift, full stop. In fact they may receive a touching and thoughtful gift with gratitude and appreciation.

    However, it is best to use your own judgement. Each situation will be different. Consider what the family are like and whether their request for a charitable donation is in keeping with their history. Are they a family that is very social conscious, do they request birthday and Christmas presents to be donations to charity?

    If there is a pattern then perhaps they would always prefer any gesture to be in the form of a donation rather than something for themselves. But in many instances you can both give a donation and a gift to the family without fear of upsetting them.

    SEE MORE: ‘In Lieu of Flowers’ Alternatives and Etiquette

    Is it Appropriate to Send a Sympathy Gift After the Funeral?

    Yes. Whilst sending a gift as soon as you learn of the death is recommended it can be comforting for the family to receive something after the stress and pain of the funeral too.

    Grieving doesn’t end or stop after a funeral. It will continue on for however long is necessary and during that time the support and love of friends will be essential. So a gift to show your support and to lift the spirits of those mourning is a lovely gesture that will be appreciated regardless of it being after the funeral.

    Should I Send a Gift on the Anniversary of the Death?

    The anniversary of a death can be a really hard time for the grieving family and friends. It’s also something that isn’t discussed or considered enough about when we think of grief and his it affects people. So to receive a gift and know that others have remembered the anniversary can be a real comfort.

    A memorial gift that commemorates the life of someone passed away is a wonderful gesture. Giving the family a gift like this on the anniversary of their death will be greatly welcomed and help them to remember their lost loved one.

    Should I Expect to Receive a Thank You Card for a Sympathy Gift? 

    The bereaved may send a thank you note or message but you shouldn’t expect one. Grief affects people in different ways. Some can cope and carry on their normal life without it causing too much interruption. Others struggle enormously. The grief can cause them to even function properly. Getting through each day is hard enough.

    So if someone is affected badly the last thing they are going to be thinking about is sending a thank you card for a gift they’ve received.

    But that doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful. And it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send one. The act of giving should be the reward, and knowing it may help those going through such pain to not feel as alone.


    Knowing the correct etiquette for giving a sympathy gift can be tough, and the worry about getting it wrong all too real. Hopefully this guide will have helped to put to bed any worries you have and give you the confidence to show your support with a comforting and thoughtful gift.

    And really that’s the most important thing to remember. A gift will provide some comfort amongst the pain and grief of a loss. So the main thing to takeaway from this is that giving a gift is always a touching gesture and one you should try to do if you can.

    sympathy gift 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


    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


    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:


    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 huge selection of sympathy messages.

    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?

    You can but 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 a better idea to send your condolences via a card if you can, 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.

    Other articles you may be interested in: