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Writing a Condolence Letter

After the death of a child, a condolence letter can help bring comfort to the family. But it can be hard to know what to say. Friends want to sound genuine and offer support, but the words often don’t come easily.

Condolence letters are written for the benefit of the family – to show support and remember the child. Families may keep these letters as a remembrance of their child’s life and reread them as a source of comfort. Families can learn new stories about the child and deepen connections with friends through sharing memories.

A note of condolence does not need to be long or complicated. The pressure of finding the “right” words often keeps people from writing. A few tips can help:

  • Handwrite the note if possible
  • Keep it simple
  • Be sincere and authentic
  • Share memories, and make a personal connection
  • Avoid giving advice, and be careful about sharing religious beliefs

Use a calendar to remind you to follow up with phone calls or help. Also, make a reminder to send another card or reach out to the family with a text or phone call on important dates, such as the child’s birthday or anniversary of the death. This helps families know that they and their children are not forgotten.

Steps to Writing a Condolence Letter

It can help to break the letter down into its basic parts: opening, middle, and closing. The letter begins by acknowledging the family’s loss, then focuses on remembering the child, and ends with an offer of specific help or show of care and support.

Opening

Many people never send a note because they simply don’t know where to begin. Write on simple stationary or on a sympathy card from the store. Start by writing a greeting. When writing to parents, consider addressing the letter to siblings as well.

  • Begin with a simple acknowledgement of the loss. Be sincere and express your feelings of sympathy.
  • Refer to the deceased by name, and identify your connection to the child.
    • “I wanted to share how very sorry we are for your loss. Aiden was in theater at school with my daughter, Sophia.”
    • "I am heartbroken for the loss your family has suffered. It was a joy to have Luke in my class during third grade.”

Body

The main part of the letter should make a personal connection. Write from the heart. Often people feel as if they should be excessively formal given the situation. But honest feelings convey much more than long lines of flowery words.

Reminders for writing the body of the note include:

  • Be personal and refer to the deceased and other family members by name.
  • Share how the child or family have had a personal impact on you or your family.
  • Acknowledge special characteristics or qualities of the child and his or her family.
  • If possible, offer one or two specific memories.
    • “Sarah was such a talented writer. I was always amazed by her poetry. She was blessed with a gift for words!” 
    • “John and our boys could get into some trouble together – I will never forget the frog prank! But, that mischievous grin of John’s -- It makes me smile just thinking about it.”

Closing

The close of a condolence letter is often where help is offered. If you are unsure what to offer, simply express care and support.

When offering help:

  • Be specific in the help you are offering. Instead of saying, “Please let us know if we can help in anyway,” say, “We have signed up to bring you a meal and will drop it off next Tuesday.”
  • Only offer help if there is ability to follow through. If you are unable to commit to helping in a specific way, sincere words of concern and care are enough.
  • Check in with the family’s support community to find out what types of help might be needed.
    • “We are happy to help take Tyler to soccer whenever he needs a ride. Our hearts break for your entire family, and we are thinking of each of you.”
    • “I hope that you will find strength in the love of your church family. We are praying for you.”

The final sentence of a condolence letter can sometimes feel as difficult as the first. End with an expression of hope or sympathy. Sample closings include:

  • “I will keep you in my prayers” (only if true)
  • “I hope you feel surrounded by much love.”
  • “Holding you close in my thoughts”
  • “With love always” (if close to the family)
  • “I will call you next week to see when I can come over and help” (if you plan to follow through)
  • “With sympathy”

Sample Letters

Below are some sample letters that may help start the process of writing a letter of condolence.

As a friend of the family who knew the child

Dear Maria, Eric, Violet, and Justin,

Please know how much you are in our hearts and thoughts always. Robert brought light into our lives just as he did for everyone who knew him. He could be stubborn, and we’ll never forget how as a toddler he refused to wear shoes and insisted on going barefoot everywhere—even to church! Maria and Eric—you were so patient with him showing him always that he was loved. Violet and Justin—you shared your passion for music and books with him, both of which brought out his energy and curiosity. He kept us all on our toes. He will always be remembered with love and joy by all four of us.

Please know, whatever you need we are here for you. We will call or text to see when you are ready for company, and we will bring dinner and a movie.

With our love always,

Olivia, Brice, Lillian, and Brody

As someone who knew parents but did not know the child

Dear Kathy and David,

I’m very sorry for your loss. I did not know Stephen, but I know that the two of you are strong, loving people. The sense of humor that both of you have shared with the world must have given Stephen many happy moments full of love.

We will be in Chicago in May and will reach out to see if it is a good time to visit with you. Until then, please know that Tom and I have you in our thoughts and prayers.

Love,

Kristen

As someone who knew the child but are not close friends of the family

Dear Lucas, Katherine, and Liam,

My daughter Carly was in gymnastics with Emma. I wanted to share how very sorry we are for your loss.

We always knew Emma as spunky and hardworking. She never gave up even when a routine was hard. She always had a kind and supportive word for all the other girls in the gym. Liam, Carly shared that Emma spoke often about both of you and the ways in which you supported her as the youngest sibling. You must be a special family to have raised a child as focused and kind as Emma.

Please know you are in our thoughts and the thoughts of the entire gymnastics community.

God bless you and comfort you,

Susie Mitchell

As a colleague

Dear Thomas,

I am very sorry to hear about your loss. While I didn’t know Anna, I was very touched to read in the obituary how much she loved baseball and how much you enjoyed going to games together. I hope those special memories will bring you comfort in the days ahead.

With deepest sympathy,

David Simpson


Reviewed: June 2018