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Writing Condolences After a Death

In early September I posted a blog on writing condolences, inspired by the need to send messages to people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Since then I have been amazed at the number of people who have visited this blog in search of examples of condolence letters.

The earlier blog focused on writing to people affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. This one features examples of notes of condolence when someone has died. They are appropriate in both business and personal situations. Of course, you may pick and choose from the sentiments in these examples to create a message that matches your reader and the situation.

As for how to send the message, dropping a note or card in the mail is preferable to email. This statement from a bereaved friend explains why:

Though I received several notes of condolence through e-mail, I found in my distress that a tangible card I could see on my desk was really much more comforting.

In these examples, I make no assumptions about the beliefs of the reader regarding death, dying, and spiritual matters. Comments on those topics are appropriate only when you are certain they will comfort the reader. After all, comfort and support (not preaching) are the reasons for this message.

On the death of a spouse:
Dear ______,

We are so sorry about _____’s death. She was a lovely woman who touched so many lives with her joy and generosity. We miss her deeply already, and we can only imagine the heartbreak you feel.

One of our fondests memories of your dear wife is of the kindness she showed to the refugee family from Rwanda. She treated them like her own family. She involved many of us in that kindness, and we were all better people because of it. ____ lived her life as a model of grace and goodness. We are very lucky to have known her.

Please accept our deepest sympathy.


Upon a death after a long illness:

Dear _____,

Please accept my sincere sympathy on the passing of your brother. Although he suffered for a long time and this moment may seem like a blessing, it is still a grave loss for you. Life is never quite the same when a sibling is no longer present, and I am sorry for the hardship you are experiencing.

I will hold you and your family in my thoughts and prayers as you move through the process of grieving and healing. Please know that there are many like me who are thinking of you.

With warm regards,

On the death of a parent:

Dear _____,

Please accept my sincere condolences on the passing of your dear father. I am so sorry about your loss.

Although I never met your father, I know how much he meant to you. Through your stories of his frugality, his love of nature, and his loving support of you, I feel as though I knew him. I know he was a fine man and that his absence will be felt by many people.

When my father died, it gave me a good feeling to talk with people about him. I would enjoy hearing more about your father and his life if you would like to share memories when we get together. In the meantime, I will be thinking of you and your family.

With deep sympathy,

On the death of a difficult person:

Dear _____,

Please accept my sympathy on the death of your _______. I know she was difficult at times, and no doubt you are experiencing a range of emotions. Nevertheless, the death of someone who has been important in your life always creates an absence. I am very sorry for your loss.

I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers as you move through your bereavement.

With sincere condolences,


On the death of a child:

Dear ______,

We are so sorry about the death of your beautiful daughter. We wish we could find words that would relieve your pain, but we cannot imagine what they are. Losing a child is one of the saddest life experiences possible, and words of true comfort are difficult to find.

Please know that we are thinking of you in your sorrow. You have our sincere condolences.

In sympathy,

On a death when you know very little about the situation:

Dear _____,

We are very sorry to learn that you have experienced a death in your family. Although we do not know the details, we want you to know that we are thinking about you in your bereavement.

Please accept our condolences.


For those who receive them, letters of sympathy and condolence provide an essential link with other people in a time of loss and need. Don’t worry about the exact wording or grammar. Just write. Your goal is not to be perfect but to make a sincere connection with another human being.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Writing Condolences After a Death”

  • Thank you so much. I was struggling to find the right words to convey my feelings and this has been incredibly helpful.

  • I am glad you found these ideas helpful. You may want to check in with the other person in a few days, a few weeks, and a few months to express your caring again. Healing can take a very long time, and people who are grieving appreciate being remembered.

  • Thanks for the info, this post was semi helpful. My supervisor lost a person to him that was like a mother, and his team have decided to give him a beautiful frame and have it engraved. I was looking for sentiments that I could have engraved compared to words that I could express in a card. This info was very helpful though. I will definately add you to my favorites and explore your site more.

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