A message of condolence-what should you say?
A message of condolence has become more important at the moment, with funerals now being limited to a few close family members. For those who are unable to attend, expressing their sentiments in a condolence message is a good option.
How to start a message of condolence
You should address the letter/card to the departed's closest surviving family members. Begin your message by simply expressing your sadness at the departure of the person. Do not be afraid to mention the death in a natural and normal way and offer your condolences. You might say " I am so sorry to learn about your recent loss".
Write and revise
When writing a message of condolence it is a good idea to write it and then leave it a couple of days. Re-read and edit it. You may want to do this several times until you find the right words and the right balance of emotions.
Even if you yourself are distraught by the loss of the person try not over-express your personal emotions. It is better to show that you empathise with how the recipients must be feeling and to acknowledge that their grief is unique. Those closest to the departed are obviously experiencing a different kind of grief and you should not imply that you are feeling the same.
Do not try to ease their grief
The person with whom you are communicating may not see things the same way as you. Try to avoid saying things like "He/she is in a better place now", or "Everything occurs for a reason". While your intention may be good, do not assume that the family's beliefs coincide with yours. Respect their pain and do not feel the need to try and make them feel better in this way.
A message of condolence helps the writer and the recipient
For the writer, it is an opportunity to express their feelings towards the departed. To really remember the person and to analyse their relationship with them. To talk about their lives and the things that they did together. It can help to ease the sense of loss by remembering happy moments spent together. If you knew the person well, you could mention those traits about them that you most appreciated, and include personal tales. However, you should not include humorous stories in your message of condolence, as it can be hard to get the tone right. You may come across as uncaring and insensitive.
For the recipient, hearing nice things and positive anecdotes and stories about their departed loved one is often comforting. Also, to know that someone else is missing that person and the space that they have left in their life.
You might want to offer your support in the future if you feel it appropriate and are willing to do so. You could say something like,"Please call me anytime if you would like to talk".
Often, soon after a bereavement the family are in a state of shock and confusion. They are frequently unable to relate to others for a while. This kind of invitation will give them the opportunity to get in touch and talk when they feel like it.
How to end your message of condolence
If you are very close to the family an informal signing off such as, "With all my love", may be welcome. However, for someone you know less well, "With my sincere sympathy", may be more appropriate.