The death of a loved one is a universal experience—and yet it’s challenging to know what to say to someone who has recently lost a friend or family member. It’s helpful to start by considering our own previous losses, and remembering the words and prayers that meant the most to us in our grief.
After my father committed suicide, I remember that some people didn’t know what to say—so they said nothing. I certainly didn’t fault them for that, but I was grateful for the many people that did acknowledge the hurt and grief I felt during that terrible time. I received letters and cards that were very personal and I was extremely appreciative of those who took the time to write a message of support.
We all struggle at times when sending a written message of condolence, even though we know it is important to do so. But there are some simple things we can keep in mind that will help us find words of comfort and support.
What To Write in a Sympathy Card?
1. Keep it simple.
As I mentioned earlier, after my father passed away, I was comforted by the love and support of those who sent cards and letters to my family. They did not need to say much; it can mean a great deal after losing someone to simply hear a kind word of support.
Simple words are best when offering encouragement or condolence to someone during times of loss.
Here are some more suggestions for ways to begin a sympathy card:
- “We are so sorry for your loss.”
- “I hope you feel surrounded by much love during this time.”
- “I am sharing in your sadness as you remember [insert name].”
- “I wish I could be there with you now, but please be assured of my prayers for you and your family…”
- “I was saddened to hear that [insert name] passed away…”
2. When no words seem fitting, turn to Scripture.
Sometimes our own words fall short when we try to comfort someone who has experienced a loss. Sacred Scripture is full of words of empathy and compassion that can be offered when our own human words seem to fail us. There is something about a verse from the Bible that is like a powerful balm to one who is in the depths of grief.
Writing to someone, you might say, “I am so very sorry for your loss. I want to share these words from Scripture that might offer solace since my own words fail me at this time…[insert Bible verse]. Please know that you and your family are in my prayers as you go through this difficult time.”
Here are some Scripture verses that might be used to console someone who is mourning:
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:3-4
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,Psalm 34:18
and saves the crushed in spirit.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,Psalm 147:3
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,Psalm 23:4
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.”Luke 23:42
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”John 14:1-4
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Matthew 5:4
3. Think about where your recipient is in life and mindset and choose words that meet them there.
Each of us will grieve differently. Our relationships are unique and so is our grief. Understanding this will help in choosing the words to say to someone who has just lost a loved one.
Faith can sometimes be difficult for those dealing with loss. Perhaps the person you know is struggling with understanding God’s will in the death of their loved one. Perhaps they aren’t sure that God exists. In this case, your own words might be better suited than words from Scripture—or perhaps you could choose a spiritual sympathy card with pre-written words from Scripture and then write your own personal message inside. You’ll which approach is best based on your recipient.
Here are a few ways to start a message of condolence:
- “You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers daily.”
- “I wish I had the right words, but please know that I care.”
- “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I am here and want to help in whatever way that I can.”
- “I know you must miss [insert name] so much. My favorite memory of your loved one is…”
When you speak from your heart, there are no wrong words to say—however, it is advisable to stay away from phrases such as “They are in a better place” or “There is a reason for everything” or “At least they lived a long life.”
Instead of coming from a place of empathy and support, those words tend to sound as if we have the answer—and we don’t.
4. Say a prayer for the soul of the one who has died and for their family.
As Christians we are called upon to pray for one another. We often hear the words “I will pray for you” (or we might be the ones saying it).
Do we follow through on those prayers? When we hear that someone has died we should always pray for his or her soul.
Here is a common prayer of the Church that we can offer for a deceased soul and a prayer for those who have lost a loved one:
Prayer for Eternal Rest
Eternal rest grant unto them,
O Lord, and let perpetual light
shine upon them. May the souls
of all the faithful departed, through
the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Prayer for Mourners
you are attentive to the voice of our pleading.
Let us find in your Son
comfort in our sadness,
certainty in our doubt,
and courage to live through this hour.
Make our faith strong
through Christ our Lord.
N. is gone now from this earthly dwelling,
and has left behind those who mourn his/her absence.
Grant that we may hold his/her memory dear,
never bitter for what we have lost
nor in regret for the past,
but always in hope of the eternal Kingdom
where you will bring us together again.
Through Christ our Lord.
One of the seven spiritual acts of mercy is to comfort the sorrowful. Let us always try to be attentive to the needs of those whose family member or close friend has died and comfort them in their time of need.
When a lot of time has passed, check in on them again, and ask how they are doing—people really appreciate this!
Hopefully these tips bring peace to you as you write!