Tips for Writing Sympathy Cards

Dear Ms. Cards Etiquette

A business associate of mine just passed away. We used to have lunch together once or twice a month, but I didn’t really know his family. I feel like I should do something, but I’m not really sure what to say or who to send a card to.
Baffled in Brooklyn

Sympathy cards can be some of the most difficult things anyone ever has to write. If you didn’t know the family of the deceased, the most appropriate person to send a card to would be his spouse, if he was married, or parents or children if not. If you don’t know the names of any of his immediate relatives, you could send a card to his home, addressed to “The Surname Family”, and whoever is taking care of his affairs will get it.

As for what to write, this is an excellent time to remember to keep it simple. You don’t want to say “I know how you feel,” because everyone grieves in their own way. You also don’t want to say anything that might seem dismissive, like “time heals all wounds,” or, “perhaps it was just his time to go.” Concentrate on how YOU related to the deceased, and simply express sympathy for his surviving relatives.

Some appropriate phrases to use:

  • I wanted to send my deepest sympathy
  • I am very sad to hear of your loss
  • We will all miss [your associate] very much
  • I’ve known [your associate] for many years, and am greatly saddened to hear of his/ her passing
  • Your family is in my prayers
  • My thoughts are with you

Also, feel free to include a couple lines of remembrance. His family will likely be glad to hear other people’s happy memories of him during this difficult time. It’s also good to let them know who you are and how you knew their relative. Grieving is a difficult time for everyone, and playing guessing games about sympathy cards is a little bit of unneeded stress. Use your full name in the card, and perhaps mention your specific business relationship, so they can easily recognize who you are.

Above all, remember that even if you only write a couple of lines, that’s enough. Letting the family know that even his business contacts cherished his friendship and are going to miss him is the most important thing.