Wellbeing

5 Heartfelt Messages to Write in a Sympathy Card

Comforting someone who has lost a loved one is never easy. Knowing what to say in general is a challenge, and finding the best words to write can be just difficult. We reached out to families like yours, who use CaringBridge, and you came through with some good messages.

Here are 5 ideas on what to write in a sympathy card to express support and love:

1. Get Personal

Those experiencing loss know how special their loved one was and your message should reflect your appreciation for that. If their loved one was passionate about music, mention what great taste they had. If they were into gardening, a card with flowers and a relevant quote might mean a lot.

“When my Dad, died a friend from childhood sent a sympathy card she had made personally with a picture of my dad’s house lit up for Christmas. It was his true passion and he had over 100,000 lights on it. It’s the one we all treasured and still love today. That is truly a great way to show you care.”

Patti Nequette

2. ‘I’m bringing over your favorite meals.’

Sympathy messages don’t always have to be emotional – they can be practical, too! In such an overwhelming time, a message like this can be a breath of fresh air. Plus, offering meals and other supplies to those in crisis takes a huge weight off their shoulders.
I often bring paper plates, napkins, tissues and even toilet paper. The other food items I bring are canned beef, turkey, chicken, frozen vegetables, pizzas, casseroles that I have frozen, that way they don’t have to go out for groceries right away.”
Liz Schnipke Warnecke

3. Remember When…

Reminiscing on happy memories is one of the best ways to cope with grief. Memories help people hold onto the bond they had with their loved one. Thinking about all the good times instead of what was lost can be helpful during a very sad time.

“Recall a story that they were not a part of but that you cherish. It provides another insight into who their loved one was, sometimes a side of the person they never knew. It also lets them know that their loved one is a part of someone else’s memory and not forgotten.”

Karen Anne Clifford

“A special memory of their loved one will more than likely touch their hearts. ❤️”

Mary K Allhoff

4. ‘I’ll be by your side every step of the way.’

Hard times can feel very isolating; remind your loved one that they don’t have to go through this alone and you’ll be there with them for support.

5. Your Favorite Quote

When you’ve experienced challenging times, what was a quote or saying that gave you comfort? Share this in the card. Your favorite saying will feel more personal and your loved one will appreciate you sharing. Who knows? It might become one of their favorite quotes as well.

If you’re struggling to think of a saying, these 19 quotes for hope and healing are a good place to start.

Messages to Avoid

Sympathy cards, though well-intentioned, can be unhelpful with the wrong message inside. Here are some common messages to stay away from:

  • “I know how you feel.” People experience hardship in their own way, at their own pace. While empathy is a good thing, this card is about them and their loved one, not you.
  • “Just let me know how I can help.” Offering help is great, but leaving it up to your loved one can feel overwhelming. Instead, simply let them know that you are there for them. Next time you see them, offer a specific way that you can be of assistance.
  • “Everything happens for a reason.” This implies there is a good reason for your loved one’s pain. Don’t shrug off their hardship; recognize it with a gentle, “we’ll get through this together.”

For more info on what not to say, check out these 7 things to never say to a patient or caregiver (plus tips on better words to share).

No Matter What, Send the Card

Even when you don’t know what to say, saying something is more comforting than silence. When in doubt, “I love you” never fails.

Just send the card, they can look at it when they need to feel loved. Too many times we don’t send the cards, but they are a link to others.”

Michele Stoumbaugh

We’d like to hear it from you! What messages have you given or received in a card that have provided you the most comfort during a difficult time?

Comments (74)

Post a Comment

Bruce- lee Ellison Oct 14, 2019 4:13pm
Never say, (He or She) is in a better place now, A better place is with you an d family.
Karen Dunfee Oct 02, 2019 1:23pm
I love this advice- well done!!
Angela Fraser-Powell Sep 22, 2019 9:47am
While the article is focused on the loss of a loved one, it is also addressing grief which takes many forms even if we, through grace, do not lose our loved one. We have 3 friends recently diagnosed with various forms of cancer. This is a devastating blow as none of these forms are "curable" per se; their time has become much more limited. It is difficult to know how to feel or what to say and while there is a fighting spirit, hope, prayer.....there is also the beginnings of grief as their lives have been completely altered in unexpected, and unwanted, ways. Some of these ideas, preparing food, being supportive, sending cards for inspiration - healing, walking with family and friends, are all appropriate ideas for help and support. One of our friends diagnosed is a racing fan. He and my husband have spent countless hours over the years geeking out about races. After his diagnosis, he had to retire from a high level job, he is brilliant, but he felt he could no longer do the work due to what he called "chemo brain". His work was so important to him and not knowing what to say, we simply offered our friendship and to come to our home anytime to watch races. I think he really appreciated the normalcy of that and since then when we see him, this is typically the main topic. It is amazing how knowing the people you support and making the smallest gesture can have a big impact.
Laurie Waller Benson Sep 02, 2019 8:49pm
My husband died almost six months ago and I still have the cards out and look through them. Yes, personal notes are the best. Many of the cards aren't actual "sympathy" cards, just beautiful pictures. Art cards from local artists, supporting them as well as me. Cards with tartan ribbon glued on (he was of Scottish background) and oh joy some photos from the past. I agree with those who would rather not have food brought. I still have dishes I washed and don't know where they came from and probably have to give them to the Thrift store, and the freezer is still packed with things I have to give away as I don't eat meat. Taking me to tea or lunch, and a gift certificate for a massage were my favourite offers, and ongoing is a young, strong friend who is helping with the yard work, sorting and boxing and Thrift store delivering and just keeping me company when the sorting is overwhelming.
Jennifer VanderYacht Sep 02, 2019 2:24pm
I can’t say I know how you feel, but in my mind I see the many times we would go on adventures as a family. Exploring a mountain, hiking through fields, learning about various objects in nature was fun. I offer support in your time of sorrow, and maybe we can enjoy moments we all shared as children.
Torie Redington Aug 31, 2019 9:22pm
My daughter has an incurable brain tumor. I like people to ask me about her. Then I know she’s not forgotten by others. Eventhough I might tear up.
Becky Aug 31, 2019 2:15pm
I agree with Lucy. Please consider your audience, CaringBridge, when sending out info like this!! Was this a blanket message to everyone? My family has just started our journey with my brother and his serious medical condition. We are full of hope and anxious to see how well he responds to his treatments. Then to be sent info about what to say when someone is gone just rubs me the wrong way. Don’t you have some kind of filter to use for those accounts who may need the info so you don’t send the same to those of us who have just entered this venture and are not even close to thinking about the need for this kind of information! That should be “caring101” for you.
Patricia Aug 31, 2019 10:47am
When a friend lost her husband another friend and I paid a cleaning lady to clean her house. She said this was the best gift she received and couldn't thank us enough. Not that her house was dirty but with so many people stopping by it was one less thing she had to worry about.
Ray Beeson Aug 30, 2019 11:54am
Thank you, caringbridge, for caring. Our loved one just went home. So hard right now, but the pain is a bit easier when we saw how many cared. Your advice is so good seeing how some find it hard to know what to say. They are still wonderful because we knew they were there for us.
Marilyn Aug 29, 2019 1:30pm
I recently sent an envelope with a card and five hand-size wooden crosses with a heart in the middle for the five adult children of their deceased mother. I gave them a few suggestions: "hold this tight when you want to talk to Mom; write a special note or memory to remember Mom on the back; use on the Christmas tree; or hang it on the wall by her special spot at your home..." They thanked me at the funeral and also sent a real nice thank-you in the mail for that simple gift
Lillian Harms Aug 28, 2019 10:55am
Jan, my heart goes out to you today. Know that you are in my prayers, and that I care about you. I trust that the service was a time of sharing memories, and the Blessings God has shared with the 2 of you. Lillian Harms
Stephen Trimble Trimble Aug 27, 2019 12:06pm
This was great information. Something that I really needed! Thank you very much.
Linda Wanfried Aug 27, 2019 9:33am
My husband of 31 years died just about a year ago. My twin sister died 4 months later. I received comfort from this site while they were ill. And now, in grief I also feel comforted.
Peggy Aug 27, 2019 8:20am
Dear Lucy, I am so sad to hear about your niece. It is very hard to see someone we love go through such a trial. You must be hurting so very much. And maybe feel like there is nothing you can do to change the situation. Maybe you could take this information and turn it around as suggestions of ways to reach out to your niece. Be strong! Meant in love, Peggy
Lucy McConville Aug 26, 2019 7:43pm
I did not read this article. I'm sure it likely had many good thoughts...but, wow, REALLY? I am connected to this site because my beloved niece is fighting for her life with stage four ovarian cancer. The LAST thing I want to read about right now is "tips" on what will be the right words to say to her wonderful husband and children if she does not make it! Yes, this is good information...but just because information is good, does NOT mean it should be shared. You have to consider to whom you are sending this kind of thing. Pick your audience, man! REALLY turned off and hurt by this. Sorry that is just how I feel.
Lynda Smith Aug 26, 2019 3:44pm
Your site has been so supportive for so many..its a way to travel the difficult pathway with the patient and family; thankyou so much for resource. Having lost significant family in a short time frame...I feel blessed to have so much support, however, in the area of help...the foods are great, but so much needs to be done with the house , yard, , personal belongings..I so appreciate and encourage friends to offer helping hands in these areas when possible.
Lauren G. Aug 26, 2019 11:35am
I received the message in a card that said, “if they are with God and God is with you, they cannot be far away.”
Lorraine Golding Aug 26, 2019 8:53am
I just lost my dear Aunt and have to write 3 sympathy cards to my cousins today and these comments are going to help me write them a memorable message.
Linda Ranell Beerman Aug 26, 2019 8:01am
I totally agree to send the note or card...and show up if possible. Call if you can't. Remember them in some way. Don't overstay your visit...and yes, bring practical things that will give them comfort and save them "going out" to buy them. Food that can be kept or frozen is best...sometimes they get too much of the stuff that has to be eaten right away. Just be there. Give hugs. Smile. Listen. Cry with them.
Richard F De Pol Aug 25, 2019 1:35am
Miracle from MVA, 81101, bio needs to get out there. TBI, and still have it at times. Figured some short cuts, or a little enlightening actions to favor further progress , or acquired gain. rickyd227 as. gmailin it.
Phyllis Mellone Aug 23, 2019 5:14pm
Do not post on facebook that you are sorry, or express your condolences. If its a close friend, you call and go to the funeral (if you can.) If they are Jewish you make a shiva call. If there is a wake you go to it. (If it's feasible.) No matter what you do, send a sympathy card with a personal comment. When my brother recently died, I was moved to tears when neighbors made a donation in my brother's name to an organization that supports illnesses or debilitating conditions( cancer care, alzheimer's organization, etc. ) The gift of planting a tree in Israel affected me the most. It said that his life has been honored by the planting of a tree that will live and grow in in his honor.
Georgetta Grimmett Aug 23, 2019 9:17am
I think one of the best things to write in a card, or tell them, besides those, is a story of a time when your loved one impacted someone. Your loved one knew and interacted with many people you did not know or see, so tell the stories about that! What a great comfort knowing your loved one impacted someone else's life too!
Delma M Mindel Aug 22, 2019 6:00pm
"God doesn't give us more than we can handle" is not helpful. "God is walking alongside me through nthe difficult times" is.
Chris Kuntz Aug 21, 2019 6:43pm
When our family friend died suddenly after a major surgery, I cooked a couple of large meals and brought them to the family. The grieving are so involved in the immediate things that need to be addressed, eating is the last thing they think of. They often don't even realize how hungry they are until they see / smell a comforting meal. In our case, there was a lot of family & friends coming in from out of town that needed to eat as well. Casseroles that just needed heating worked well. So did crock pot foods -- mealtimes became flexible and hot food readily available. Through away plates, utensils, etc served for easy clean up. It was helpful for me to cope with the loss by contributing somehow to THEIR care.
Shirley A. Hansen Aug 21, 2019 9:58am
Everything you say or do depends on how well you Know the deceased or the grieving person. 🥰
Terri C. Aug 21, 2019 9:25am
When my neighbor passed away, I took over some food plus paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, napkins, etc. and it was very much appreciated when all the family and friends were there for meals, etc.
M. Dybeck Aug 20, 2019 10:20pm
I meant the FOOD thing😀
M Dybeck Aug 20, 2019 10:17pm
It is best to offer help before just barging in. It should be when they want it. Some folks just want to grieve quietly alone. I've never understood the good thing. That would be the last thing I would care about.
Mary Aug 20, 2019 8:40am
We've been through 6 long years of tragedy, death and grief. No matter how long it's been since one's passing...for those who grieve the loss of a loved one...it's never too late to send/receive a card. Not to be to abrupt...but...the loved one is still gone no matter how much time has passed! Therefore, I try to send a card around the 1 yr anniversary of their loved one's death so that they know we still care and will never forget their loss either. I have had countless responses thanking me for remembering them and their loved one's loss...I know it's done my own heart good as well!
Vaughn Winter Aug 20, 2019 7:56am
REMEMBER TO TELL YOUR KIDS you will always love their mom or dad THAT WILL MEAN SOMETHING IN LATER TIMES IF YOU FIND SOMEONE ELSE TO LOVE. Kids are so protective of the one who is gone.
G. M. Aug 20, 2019 7:37am
This is wonderful!! Thank you for going that extra step!
NANCY OLSON Aug 20, 2019 4:31am
Gone from my Sight I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand watch her at length until she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” “Gone where?” Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!” And, that is dying. Adapted from the poetry of Henry Van Dyke
Nyokabi Githahu Aug 20, 2019 3:57am
Thank you for this information. Now i know what to say/do........and more so, what not to say to someone going through a loss
Robert A. Simms, Jr. Aug 19, 2019 9:36am
Good Heavens, Caring ♡ Bridge! You are one wonderful place, here, on the web. Thank you for your lovely thoughts that make planet Earth a bearable place to inhabit, for sensitive folks. It is a joy to journey with you! ❦ Bob
DD Aug 19, 2019 8:56am
Just knowing they care enough to send a card is enough. I often say, " Remember all the good memories".
Pam Aug 17, 2019 4:06pm
Two of the most comforting things I have heard are: Use your memories to fill the hole in your heart. The other I heard was from Joe Biden. He said, “I promise you that the day will come when a smile comes to your face BEFORE a tear comes to your eyes when you hear their name. “
Beverly Barr Aug 17, 2019 8:39am
Thank you!!!
Donna Karwoski Aug 16, 2019 8:43am
Thank you for your card input
Barbara Shepherd Aug 16, 2019 7:17am
To Caring Bridge I thought this post was a suggestion that the person I was following had passed. Fortunately it isn’t so. Very misleading to come in the inbox...
David Huisjen Aug 15, 2019 2:04pm
Great insights from many posters. Thanks for posting and keeping us current on your progress. Love and prayers for you and Ruth. David and JM
Beth Aug 15, 2019 2:00pm
I send hope to all who grieve . . . To Linda, it is never too late to send a card or remembrance. Grief does not fit the calendar. I find remembrances long after the loss to be particularly helpful.
K Miller Aug 15, 2019 9:39am
Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. It is a permanent home. No one arrives unknown or unexpected. ( mainly for a Christian)
KJS Aug 14, 2019 9:22pm
The young adult son of a friend of mine had died, and I asked her what someone could say that would be helpful to her. “I can’t imagine” was her response. Makes sense. How could I know how she felt? I have used this phrase along with words of sympathy and caring.
FFH Aug 14, 2019 8:12am
Rather than inundate a family with more food than they can comfortably consume, consider arranging a group calendar where different members R responsible for a meal or a course 2 B delivered with a visit over a period such as a month. Send a gift card(s) 2 a favorite restaurant or accompany & treat.
Karen Silvers Aug 13, 2019 11:42pm
Some very good advice! I hate when people say let me know if we can help! Just do it! Dim’t Ask! A gift card or a meal are great! I always do that for others and it is so appreciated- when I was grieving Imeoykd have lived if someone would have offered to take me out or even bring a meal from a restaurant-even chili from Wendy’s and a salad! Does not have to be expensive.
Marie Wilson Aug 13, 2019 5:15pm
Linda, It's never too late to say "I love you and I'm sorry."
Marilyn Hall Aug 13, 2019 12:44pm
Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes the right words just come to mind, and other times there seems to be a mental block as to what to write. These are all great suggestions.
Linda griesel Aug 13, 2019 11:08am
Over a year has passed since a former workmate’s 17-year-old daughter died in an automobile accident. Is it too late to send a car?
Phyllis J Schultz Aug 13, 2019 9:22am
Good morning Faith - I am not sure I have done all the right things here to get this started but I will send you a note and see if it goes through. I got your note to me and am so glad your visit with Kim was so good and that Kittie was involved to some degree also All is well here, I am busy but that is good as it keeps me involved in life around here. I hope you still have strength to enjoy life as much as possible. Enjoy summertime and perhaps you have flowers blooming in your yard. Can you sit on your porch and enjoy your yard? With much love and my prayers for each day - Phil
Dorothy M. Crabb Aug 13, 2019 8:39am
"You are in my thoughts and prayers"
Gerry gray-lewis Aug 10, 2019 2:12pm
"Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it but to fill it with His presence" Paul Claudel Speaks to pain, loss but reminds us of its HARD neaning and accompaniment.
Mary Lou Russell Aug 09, 2019 7:31am
Right now I have a friend who's daughter is dying from cancer. Recently I sent an email acknowledging how difficult this time is for her, telling her to " breathe deeply, cry & hug together with her family ", I ended with telling her she was loved. I hope that helped.
Anne Leonardi Aug 08, 2019 3:44pm
Just today I wrote in a Mass card, “Your Dad was a fine gentleman and the best dentist ever!” “May the Lord be your consolation and give you His peace.”
BobJan Beekman Aug 08, 2019 9:00am
Thank you for these excellent suggestions. I subscribe to FairHopeNotes.com. Their cards say what I’m thinking in eloquent words. It’s a great resource.
Katheryn Childs Aug 08, 2019 8:45am
It was comforting when a friend wrote in a card about my father's "bigger-than-life smile". It was personal and a lovely memory to bring up.
Carol Aug 08, 2019 8:00am
To Deb, who wants to know what to write if you didn't know the person who died: If there's an obituary, you can refer to it, indicating that the person was well-loved or accomplished, etc. If not, just say something general like "I know you'll miss him very much," or "It's so hard to lose a parent." A hand-written note, even if it's short, gives so much comfort. I lost my adult son 4 years ago, and I still have the cards people sent us. I go through them for comfort from time to time. They mean so much to me. It's worth it to send a physical card rather than an email, I think. An email would need to be printed out to be read later, and when you're in shock and grief, that's too much to ask, I think. Also, it does't have to be a sympathy card. A blank card with your own message can be so meaningful.
Michelle Nash-Askins Aug 08, 2019 7:31am
Thank you for posting this it really helps, I try to buy the right card that says everything that I would love to say but can't get the words right so thank you once again.
Zora Nieto Aug 08, 2019 7:26am
Thank you for posting this. I send lots of cards and often wonder what to say. I send cards but also like to receive them. People are not sending cards as much anymore since they can use the internet or text. I enjoy the cards because I can read and re-read them. Some, I have had for many years, and I will occasionally go through them and re-read and reminisce.
Christine Poppe Aug 07, 2019 4:11pm
Thank you so much for all the excellent ideas. Over the years, I was often at a loss about what to say to a person who had lost a loved one. After my husband passed recently, I've come to realize that just having people acknowledge his passing by telling me they are so sorry and giving me a hug or sending me a hug by text is very helpful. What is really, really not helpful is telling me things such as: he is in a better place :(
Geraldine Kartes Aug 07, 2019 10:25am
May you find God's loving arms around you during this difficult time. It is never easy when a loved one dies. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
jeannette Newton Aug 06, 2019 2:49pm
This is very helpful. I guess there is no perfect way to handle these things since every situation is different. However, any suggestions can be revamped/redesigned to fit. Thanks for sharing.
Anita Aug 06, 2019 7:18am
In my situation, I didn't like it when people brought food and other things they thought I needed without asking first. My family is picky, I don't eat meat, and I had a freezer full of stuff we didn't want - it was more work to manage unwanted items. A gift card to order from a local restaurant might be easier. I actually prefer when people say "let me know how I can help" because then I felt in control of asking for what I actually needed.
Victoria Niego Aug 05, 2019 8:37pm
It´s nice to hear how good,loved, talented, admirable, etc. the person was, coming from a friend that know him-her.
Robin Gorman Aug 05, 2019 2:45pm
Very helpful!
Lyn Kausche Aug 05, 2019 10:09am
I was introduced to a woman with a terminally ill husband by a mutual friend, My friend let me know he died the next day, and sent me her email address. I didn't have her last name or address, so I sent her an e-sympathy card. A few days later she sent me a note telling how much that card meant to her because it reminded her how caring people can be even when they don't know you very well, and how many true friends she has.
Nancy Lou Bender Aug 05, 2019 8:27am
Very, very helpful. thank you.
Kathryn Taylor Aug 03, 2019 5:55am
In my recent bereavement a family member gave me a card with a baby hedgehog curled up asleep on it's back. When I look at it I am reminded that I am safe and being cared for and loved and my husband is safe in the hands of the Lord.
Terry Yedlosky Aug 02, 2019 9:01am
I tell them that I share their loss and their sorrow. That they are not alone.
Deb Aug 01, 2019 3:17pm
What do you say when you didn’t know the person who died? My coworker’s dad died suddenly and I want to reach out to her but never even saw a picture of her dad.
Marlene R Kam Jul 19, 2019 1:15am
I had open heart surgery and it was wonderful to have my prayer warriors filling my mailbox with their thoughts and prayers. To this day after almost four years, I am still overwhelmed when I am asked how I am feeling because so many people care about me!
Joyce A Wiggins Jul 05, 2019 12:48am
I survived breast cancer and 6 weeks after my 5 year Mark. I was dx With bladder cancer.please don't say don't. Cry. It is very hard to face chemo
Sheldon and Marilyn Baskin and family May 21, 2019 7:46am
Our thoughts are with you. We love you. Milt was such a special, kind, gentle man. We will miss him and his sense of humor.
Sharon lund Apr 09, 2019 7:55pm
Some great ideas. Thank you.
Beverly Nan Haskins Kennedy Mar 24, 2019 11:26am
I agree with everything that you have expressed and said. I was in shock for most of the first few days, because my firstborn son, was simply not supposed to die before me. He died of an unexpected and sudden pulmonary embolism, and died right before my eyes. Despite me acting as a first responder, and I had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation ( after making sure his airway was open) immediately;and continued until the young policeman and four paramedics arrived. We all tried, heroically, to save my son; but that was simply, not God's plan. I was really in shock, physically and emotionally for several days. I found it difficult to focus and there was so very much, that I had to do. Even almost six months later; sometimes, I still can be just overwhelmed. I agree with what you have said. The cards were bes!!! I had inquiry's that were greatly appreciated, but the cards were the best. I could take them out and read them, anytime I needed empathy and support. The personal words or sentences were extremely helpful and thoughful. For weeks and even months, there was some degree of confusion!!! I think there will always be a bit of confusion, but those cards really helped me. I was always so very busy with my and my families live before this happened, that I may not always Have sent a card when other people lost a loved one or ones. I have, however, realized, just how important and even critical, those short messages are in the process of moving through the stages of grief and eventually, moving on with your life!!! Caring Bridge and the wonderful, loving family members and friends, will make a lot of difference in how well and how easily you make the transition,,,,to life without your loved one and you have to go on living. Take the time to buy and write a card. I, now, have a supply of cards, just for that purpose. It does not have to be an expensive card. It just needs to convey the message, that the person sending the condolence or "I am thinking of you" card; is there for you, when you are finally ready. It truly does make a big difference, and you will keep that card and look at it and read it again and again, all along your way. Death and grief are just so very hard. So, reach out, send a card and anything else you want to send, and just simply be there!!!