What (not) to write in a sympathy card

Sympathy cards that aren't silly: A list of short & meaningful ideas

So a co-worker, friend, or far away family member just experienced a loss. You know you want to send a card, but what do you say?

If you're not sure WHAT to say (or not say), you're definitely not alone. I get this question quite often from people in my life who reach out to ask for advice on how to help a grieving friend. (Another proof you're not alone? I've got a pretty small YouTube channel following, and so it really means something when this video alone has gotten almost 7K views!!)

Alright, let me help you avoid these mistakes and get inspired to write some actually helpful things in that sympathy card of yours. (Oh yeah.. prepare for some laughs, too!)

Here's some top tips you'll see in the video:

1.) Don't use "bandaid phrases"

"Bandaid phrases" are words that serve cover up the pain - not actually contribute to its healing. Usually, these are trite phrases like, "Time heals all wounds," "God has a plan,"or any sentence that begins with the words, "At least...." (you got 20 years of marriage, the baby didn't have to be on oxygen, etc.).

Click here to get this card in a smooth card stock (envelope included). Click here for the instant download printable version.

2.) Try not to talk about yourself

A sympathy card is not the place to offer advice or to share your own pain. When someone has just experienced loss, they need direct attention. Share about your experience with grief later on, when they've gotten past the initial shock and survival stages. Better yet, wait until they ask you for advice. When you do share, remember that everyone's loss and grief journey is going to be different. Offer your input with an open hand, free of judgement.

3.) Offer more than just sympathy

Sympathy is great, don't get me wrong. Send that note, message, or letter! But realize that they might not respond or even acknowledge it - and don't take that personally. If you really want to go above and beyond, you can offer more than sympathy. Here's some ideas:

  • Food delivery service gift cards (Doordash, etc.)

  • Make a set of coupons for services you can provide (babysitting, handyman for when things break, cleaning/organizing, etc.)

  • Create a box or scrapbook for holding memories of the lost loved one and start the collection by contributing a few memories you have of them.

  • Give a gift that's personally significant (bath bombs and smelly lotions don't count)

  • Give a gift of 4 Creative Coaching sessions to help them with the journey through grief. I specialize in grief & loss, and a handful of clients I've worked with wouldn't have seized this opportunity for themselves (due to finances or lack of motivation). Someone in their lives thought to help them find their next steps - and it made a huge difference for them.

Click here to get this card in a smooth card stock (envelope included).

5.) Define "I'm here for you" - and follow through

"I'm here for you!" "I'm here if you ever need to talk!" "Let me know how I can help!"

A griever will hear these phrases constantly, but will rarely take anyone up on the offers. That's because it's hard to quantify a vague phrase offering help at an undefined later time. The griever may also be doubtful about the extent of your offer, or they may be so tired they don't know what they need.

So, define it for them! Put time and bounds into your offer. It might sound odd to actually narrow your offer of help, but the specifics are actually what make the offer valid to the ears of the griever. Some ideas:

  • "You know I'm a night owl, so if/when you can't sleep in this next month, I'd love to be your 2am friend! Just give me a call, and I promise I'll answer."

  • "I'm sure you've got a ton of stuff on your plate right now. I'm putting it on my calendar right now to give you a call in a month or so, so that we can set up a girl's night out (my treat!). My husband will be glad to babysit the kids."

  • Create a coupon book of specific offers (see above tip). Even if the griever doesn't use these specific ones, it'll get them thinking, for example, when the sink backs up: "Oh yeah, Gary offered his handyman services. I should give him a call..."

Be creative and specific with your offers - just make sure that you're ready and willing to follow through with them! Use a digital reminder for yourself if needed.

Click here to get this card in a smooth card stock (envelope included). Click here for the instant download printable version.

6.) Send a 1 year later card, too

Let's face it, a lot of people are probably checking in with the griever right now. But a lot of the actual feelings of grief will be coming later, like in a month, 6 months, even a year! That's when all of the crowds have moved on, and the griever can feel most alone. The first year anniversary of a loved one's death can be one of the worst days ever.

I challenge you to send a 1 year later card, too. Use a digital reminder or set a date in a calendar app to remind yourself (because trust me, you'll miss it otherwise). It'll make a world of difference to your griever.

... do I have to send a sympathy card?

If you're not into the snail mail thing, the same ideas apply in a face-to-face conversation, email, or a message sent via social media.

Where can I get the cards featured in this video/blog?

Sympathy cards featured in this video/blog are available here.

The first set features beautiful, glossy prints of my own artwork on the front. These are available as hard copies only (to keep the frame-worthy print quality). Envelopes included.

This set features hand-drawn words and images, digitized and printed on matte card stock. These are available as hard copies (envelopes included) or as instant downloads (print-from-home!) if you're in a hurry.

Check out more sympathy gifts

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