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04/23/2020 12:01 AM

How to Write a Condolence Letter

When writing a condolence letter, keep it short, keep it simple, try to include a specific remembrance or short story, and offer help if you are in a position to provide it. Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source

There are many ways to comfort someone who is grieving. But an old-fashioned letter, written in ink on paper, including a personal story or specific remembrance can be particularly powerful.

After Sharon Ryan’s mom died in mid-March, she got a letter.

“I got a letter from somebody who said, ‘Your mom supported me in our marriage, and when we became parents, without any judgment at all,’” Ryan says.

Ryan’s mom became something of a surrogate grandmother to this woman’s children. That letter is something Ryan will be able to hold on to and cherish.

So, for someone who wants to help someone else who is grieving, she says, write a note or a letter.

If, like most people, your letter writing skills are a bit rusty, here are some tips.

Tom Gallagher from the Gallagher Funeral Home in Stamford, who wrote an online guide about how to write a condolence letter, encourages people to make sure the words are genuine and that “even simple words can help with the healing process.” He says in his article to give it some thought beforehand. Writing a first draft on scrap paper can help you gather your thoughts.

Write the letter by hand, he says.

“That is far more personalized than sending one that has been typed on a computer,” he notes.

Keep it short. Keep it simple.

“Do not write a lengthy letter, as that sometimes can cause you to write things that might be hurtful to the recipient,” he says.

Likewise, he says, keep the stationary simple, “subtle shades without any prints or colors.”

Offer support, and give thought to the finding just the right words at the end of the letter, he says.

At a loss for words? Here are two resources online that might help with word choice.

“Remember something wonderful. This is a woman. This is a woman who meant a lot of things. She made a difference in people’s lives,” Ryan says.

She adds that, before the current crisis, some of that storytelling would be done at wakes and funerals. Now that it can’t, these handwritten remembrances are all the more precious.