One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Letters of condolence
When someone you know experiences a loved one's death, sending a personal note is a good way to express your sympathy and support.
This page offers guidelines for writing a letter of condolence.
How to structure your letter of condolence
Your letter of condolence should have an intimate, sympathetic tone. If possible, write it out by hand on stationery rather than typing out a formal letter. To organize your letter, follow the guidelines for an informal letter. See how to lay out a letter.
Open your letter by expressing sorrow for the recipient's loss. After that, you should strive to make your note as personal as possible; be sure to state the deceased person's name. If you knew the deceased, you might write about a fond memory of that person. If not, you can acknowledge how much the person meant to the recipient.
I was sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Although I never met Mr Smith, I admired your stories about the time you spent together growing up. I know you will miss him.
Mary was such a fun-loving person, and I appreciated her wry sense of humor. I will always remember how she prided herself on baking the perfect coconut cake from scratch.
Suffering a loss in the family can present a variety of challenges, many of them unforeseen. If you are able to visit or offer assistance, be sure to say so in your letter.
If you would like, I can come by this week and bring a dish for other visitors that you may receive. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.
Close your note by wishing the recipient comfort.
I hope you will find comfort in your friends and family during this difficult time.
Suggestion: Focus on the person’s life and be genuine
Focus your letter on acknowledging the deceased person's life rather than the circumstances of the person's death, which may be difficult for the recipient to recount. But be genuine: if you did not know the deceased person well, offer general expressions of sympathy rather than trying to force a specific anecdote. Also, if you do not know the recipient's religious beliefs, you should be cautious about making references to faith.
See an example of a condolence letter (pdf).
Back to Letters and invitations.
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