This article was co-authored by Alicia Oglesby. Alicia Oglesby is a Professional School Counselor and the Director of School and College Counseling at Bishop McNamara High School outside of Washington DC. With over ten years of experience in counseling, Alicia specializes in academic advising, social-emotional skills, and career counseling. Alicia holds a BS in Psychology from Howard University and a Master’s in Clinical Counseling and Applied Psychology from Chestnut Hill College. She also studied Race and Mental Health at Virginia Tech. Alicia holds Professional School Counseling Certifications in both Washington DC and Pennsylvania. She has created a college counseling program in its entirety and developed five programs focused on application workshops, parent information workshops, essay writing collaborative, peer-reviewed application activities, and financial aid literacy events.
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You may need your teacher’s sympathy in some situations. Maybe you’re struggling in a class, and need some extra help. Maybe you’re going through a personal problem, and need your teacher to give you some leeway on assignments. Whatever the issue, approach your teacher in a calm, respectful fashion to ask for sympathy. Stop by your teacher’s office hours, explain the issue, and the two of you can figure out where to go from here. In general, work on being a good student. If you’re reliable most of the time, your teacher is more likely to help you out when you have a problem.
Raise a child who cares about how their actions impact others.
- The Importance of Empathy
- Find a therapist near me
The goal is to raise a child who is conscientious. A child who truly cares about the way his or her actions impact others is, generally, a child with solid character.
Usually this type of child feels immediate and deep remorse after a mistake and works hard to make it right. A deep streak of empathy usually runs through this sort of child.
But what about the kids who lack these capabilities? Helping them acquire the capacity for empathy is critical because it is key in maintaining close and healthy relationships.
There are about as many books about empathy as stars in the sky, so for the sake of time, parents need the secret. There is one essential way to help a child truly integrate empathy. It is for him or her to experience empathy from a parent. When a child experiences empathy, he or she gains the capacity to have empathy.
Empathy is honoring a person’s feeling state. Often, this is counterintuitive to parents who want to “fix” their child’s situation. Yet as odd as it sounds, honoring and resonating with a child’s feeling state is what helps them, not rescuing them from their problem. Empathy, itself, is healing. Fixing the child’s predicament, on the other hand, strips the child of their self-efficacy.
For example, my daughter, Molly, started to cry at bedtime a few months ago. I asked what was wrong and she told me that at recess, in front of everyone, her friend announced to the crowd that Molly was adopted, which meant that she had a mom who didn’t want her.
Although I was irate, I set that emotion aside, so I could be there for Molly. I held her close. Instead of telling her that the friend was a bully or that the friend had no right to say such things, I empathized. I gently said, “You are so hurt, so hurt. I’m here, honey. It hurts, I get it.” She snuggled close to me and I held her. I did not try to fix the problem by explaining that her friend’s perspective was wrong. I did not attempt to convince her of a different opinion. I just honored the pain.
After a few seconds, I empathized again, “It must have hurt so much to feel so alone and different. I’m so sorry, honey. I wish I would’ve been there.” Molly cried and hugged me tighter.
“I love you mom,” she said. I told her that I loved her too and that I adored her heart. We cuddled for a while longer and I asked her what I could do to help. She thought about it and asked me to talk to her friend’s mom about the situation. And I did.
At school, Molly did not retaliate. She avoided the friend but did not reciprocate the cruelty. She also continued to tell me when she was angry, sad, disappointed, worried, and frustrated, so I could help.
Telling a child not to feel the way they do does not help them. Feelings are the essence of who a person is. Saying things like, “don’t be mad” or “don’t be sad” or “you’re too sensitive” compounds the hurt, anger, or sadness, because the child feels alone in it. Sensing when a child is angry or frustrated and saying “You are frustrated, I get it, I would be too,” allows them to feel understood, connected to the parent and less alone. Feeling understood empowers a child to carry on.
Sympathy or feeling sorry for a child may instill a sense of entitlement in the child. When a parent feels compelled to fix the problem for the child, the parent puts themselves in a position of power. They take control of the situation, which strips a child of their agency and teaches them to play the victim when things go wrong. Empathizing, on the other hand, heals the child because they no longer feel alone, and they feel close to the parent because the parent authentically understands.
- The Importance of Empathy
- Find a therapist near me
Parents cannot save a child from feeling hurt, angry, disappointed, or sad. These are normal and common emotions. Yet when a parent is emotionally in tune with the child as he or she experiences these emotions, it allows the child to feel less alone. It also connects the child and parent, fostering closeness.
A child who consistently receives empathy gains the ability to regulate negative emotions in a healthy way. They also readily integrate the ability to have empathy for others.
Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.
Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.
Imagine this scenario: You’re eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge, and the cafeteria monitor comes to find you. One of your students, Shaun, is pushing other students to get to the front of the line to go outside for recess. This is the third day in a row the monitor has interrupted your lunch for the same reason.
Frustrated, you rush down the hall. You tell Shaun that if he can’t wait his turn calmly, he’ll have to be the last one in line from now on. Your reaction is understandable—what you see is a student who is continuing to shove other kids out of his way even after he’s been told not to.
Student Behavior and Empathy
What you see your students do and hear them say influences your perception of them. With a classroom full of students, it’s natural to react to students based on those outward behaviors—but what’s happening below the surface ?
It’s human nature to focus on how a student’s negative behavior takes time away from teaching and affects your classroom. When you are charged with managing behavior in addition to teaching content, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening with the student and focus on what’s happening to you as the teacher.
Showing empathy can help you change that dynamic, so you not only acknowledge and consider what you see and feel, but also what you don’t see. Those unseen challenges could include learning and thinking differences. But other struggles, such as trauma or hunger, may also be involved.
What Empathy Is
Empathy is a way of connecting with other people that shows you understand that they’re experiencing something meaningful—even though you may not understand exactly how it feels for them. In other words, empathy is about finding a way to connect and to be able to say, “I want to understand how this feels to you and let you know that you’re not alone.”
Empathy is a powerful tool that can help you better understand what’s driving your students’ behavior and find strategies to help. It can also help you connect and work through difficult moments together.
What Empathy Isn’t
Keep in mind that empathy isn’t the same as sympathy. When you are sympathetic, you may feel sorry for students. Even though you may care deeply for them, sympathy may lead you to look down on students instead of trying to understand or connect with them.
Being empathetic does not mean lowering your expectations. You can validate and have empathy for students, while at the same time holding them to high standards. In moments when you connect with students empathetically, you can reinforce your belief in their ability to succeed.
Empathy may not be about feeling sorry, but it is about feelings. Give yourself permission to acknowledge your own emotions. It’s natural to be frustrated or upset. What’s going on with your students has an emotional impact on you, too. You may need to take a minute to regroup before you talk to the student.
When you’re ready and able to be empathetic in stressful moments, it shows that you’re trying to get past your own feelings. You’re modeling for students what it looks like to practice self-control and to tune into other people’s feelings.
The Four Parts of Empathy
Researchers have identified four main attributes of what it means to be empathetic. Integrating these practices into your teaching can show students that you see what they’re going through as more than just a problem to fix.
Perspective taking. When you take a different perspective, you put aside your own feelings and reactions to see the situation through your students’ eyes. You may start by asking yourself: Do I believe my students are doing the very best they can?
Putting aside judgment. It’s easy to jump to and express conclusions about the situation based on what you see. But it’s important to step back and consider: What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?
Trying to understand the student’s feelings. If you can, tap into your own experiences to find a way to understand what the student is feeling or to remember a time when you felt something similar. Be careful not to overdo it, however. Each person’s experiences are their own, so saying “I know how you feel” can come across as disingenuous. If you’re struggling, ask yourself: What more do I need to learn and understand about how other people are reacting to or perceiving the situation?
Communicate that you understand. Talk to your students without using “fix it” phrases like “what you need to do is….” Instead, try reflective phrases like, “It sounds like you…” or “I hear that you….” As teachers, our instinct is often to contain the situation and find a quick fix. That can help in the short term. But it won’t build long-term trust with students. And it won’t help students learn to solve problems with you, and eventually try to solve issues on their own. This step requires you to do some self-reflection: What more do I need to learn and understand about how I react in the moment? What more do I need to learn about how I communicate to others that I hear them, even though I’m experiencing my own emotions?
Have you taught your employees about the “Power of Empathy”? Do they make the difference between “empathy” and “sympathy”?
We came recently across the Apple’s Genius Training Manual which puts a lot of emphasis on “empathy”. There is a special program on the course called “The Power of Empathy”. The manual insists employees should approach customer interaction with empathy not sympathy in bold type.
A friend of ours, Michael Hill from complaintsaregreat.com also recently wrote in a newsletter that the key to handling customer complaints is “empathy” not “sympathy”. That prompted us to look at the differences and why people insist so much is empathy, not sympathy.
Empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings. It requires capacity to recognize the other person’s feelings. It comes from the Greek empatheia i.e. affection, passion.
Sympathy on the other side is sharing the feelings of another. In many cases it has the notion of feeling or an expression of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; compassion or commiseration. Also could be interpreted as “harmonious agreement”; “accord” e.g. “He is in sympathy with their beliefs”.
As Apple puts it simply, they want their Geniuses to be empathetic and “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” not sympathetic, “which is the ability to feel sorry for someone.” They don’t want their employees to feel the same feelings as their customers or to agree with those, they want their employees to recognise the emotions their customers feel and change those, make them feel better – e.g. happy, cared for, valued etc. One of the approaches to do that as the manual advises is by employing the “Three Fs: Feel, Felt, and Found. This works especially well when the customer is mistaken or has bad information.”
Customer: This Mac is just too expensive.
Genius: I can see how you’d feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it’s a real value because of all the built-in software and capabilities.(Emphasis added)
The manoeuvre is brilliant. The Genius has switched places with the customer. He is she and she is he, and maybe that laptop isn’t too expensive after all. He Found it wasn’t, at least.
Some argue that the emotional intelligence is even more important than IQ (see Daniel Coleman “Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ”). Whether you agree with this or not, the fact is; Apple has more sales per square foot in the US (and possibly the world) than any other retailer. I have no doubts that the fact that they spend so much time on training people to understand customers’ emotions (i.e. being empathetic) has contributed to that. As Prof Raj Raghunathan from the University of Texas puts it; “We are ruled by our emotions first, and then we build justifications for our response. We want to be considered scientific and rational, so we come up with reasons after the fact to justify our choice”.
Complaint handling requires empathy (not sympathy), consideration of the available evidence and the balance of probabilities but, ultimately, should be based on a foundation of demonstrating that an organisation can be trusted to act fairly and reasonably when handling customers problems and complaints.
The Power of Empathy.”; He also “Takes Ownership” “Empathetically,”
How To Teach Empathy
by Terry Heick
Right near the core of education, just past tolerance and just short of affectionate connectivity, is the idea of empathy.
University of California at Berkley’s Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life explains empathy. “The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.”
Empathy is often confused with sympathy, which is a pretty extraordinary error depending on how tightly wound you are about these things (and whose definitions you stand behind). According to Dr. Brene Brown offers a divisive take on the difference. “Empathy fuels connections, sympathy drives disconnection.”
This contrasts with dictionary.com, which explains “Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally ‘feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person.” dictionary.com marks just a slight discrepancy between the two—sympathy requiring less movement and merging of emotions, while empathy is entirely that.
The chemistry and subjectivity and nuance of language aside, there is a clear handle for us as teachers. However large you see the distinction, they certainly have very different tones. Empathy is based in compassion, while sympathy is based in analysis.
UC Berkley continues clarifying:
“Contemporary researchers often differentiate between two types of empathy: “Affective empathy” refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety. “Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other peoples’ emotions. Studies suggest that people with autism spectrum disorders have a hard time empathizing.”
Ideally, empathy would be the net effect of experience, which in classrooms is both a matter of process and knowledge. Students would learn to empathize rather than be taught to empathize, as a symptom of what they know. Why this is important is a matter of implication and language. Teaching someone to feel what others feel and sit with emotions that aren’t their own couldn’t be any further from the inherent pattern of academics, which is always decidedly other. Teaching always begins with detachment—learn this skill or content strand that is now apart from you. Empathy is the opposite; it starts in the other, and finishes there without leaving.
In your classroom, there are dozens of natural sources of empathy. But what about authenticity? There’s nothing worse than ‘schoolifying’ something a child actually needs to know. So much of great teaching is about packaging content so that students recognize it as something they need to know and can actually use, rather than something to do because I said so and you don’t want a zero do you?
Teaching Without Empathy
One way to consider it? Without empathy, you’re teaching content instead of students. The concept of teachers as primarily responsible with content distribution is a dated one, but even seeking to ‘engage’ students misses the calling of teaching. To teach a child is to miss the child. You must understand them for who they are where they are, not for what you hope to prepare them for. “Giving knowledge” and “engaging students” in pursuit of pre-selected knowledge both are natural processes of formal education–and both make empathy hard to come by.
So then, where to start doing something different? How should you ‘teach it’? How will you know it when you see it? Is it different for different content areas, grade levels, genders, socioeconomic background, nationality, or other ‘thing’? Is this new-age mumbo jumbo, or a precise tool for a progressive teacher? How has the push of digital and social media into learning spaces emphasized the need for empathy–or naturally reduced it?
Is empathy a skill that can even be taught? A ‘competency’ you should bullet point in your lesson plan and pre-assess for? Or is it something more full and persistent and whole? “Expressing care for another is not an innate ability present more naturally in some people than others, but rather a skill that can be taught and nurtured through a supportive educational environment” (McLennan, 2008, p. 454). McLennan’s research suggests it is a skill.
But pushed further, it’s not hard to see that empathy is both a cause and effect of understanding, a kind of cognitive and emotional double helix that can create a bridge between classroom learning and ‘real life’ application. Getting started with empathy in the classroom is a matter of first grasping it as a concept, strategy, and residual effect of knowledge and perspective.
Heading over to tolerance.org (great resource, by the way) and ordering a bunch of posters and DVDs may be unnecessary–at least at first. Internalizing how the idea of empathy can reframe everything that happens in your classroom–your reason for teaching–is a shift that will suggest a world of possibility for teaching lessons, activities, and strategies.
See also Empathy Is An Elevated Form Of Understanding
More than anything else though, empathy is a tone. Broken into parts, it is about self, audience, and purpose. It helps students consider:
Who is ‘other’? Other how? How do we relate? What do we share? What do they need from me, and I from them? This leads to a staggering, and often troubling, question for all of us: What should I do with what I know?
Teaching empathy, then, is a matter of both affective and cognitive empathy–feeling with, alongside, and through others. This is a huge undertaking. It’s a process that resists labels–human genres of race, sexuality, class, and other grotesque aesthetics–and requires scrutiny. You have to exchange what you think you know for what you don’t. At it’s core, it’s a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes unburdened with ‘belief.’ To get a person to look at another person as a matter of beautiful symmetry.
Want to teach empathy? Help students ask not “How am I unique?” but rather “How are we the same?”
In this modern era, you need to know how to express sympathy in an email. While it’s definitely preferable to send a sympathy card, sometimes email is the best (or only) option.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to express condolences via email. Specifically, we’ll talk about
- How to write an email sympathy message
- What to put in the subject line
- Salutations and sign-offs
… and more. Let’s get to it.
Sympathy Email Etiquette
What is the best way to express sympathy?
The specific way you express your sympathy or condolences will depend on the context.
For instance, a text to your best friend will be different from a sympathy card sent to a business associate. Talking in person at the funeral will be different than when you meet up with your friend for coffee after the service. And of course, sending a sympathy email is different from all of these.
Still, there are some basic features of a condolence message that are important no matter the context.
- Express your sympathy – “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
- Talk about the decedent – “[Name] was a great person and will be sorely missed.”
- Find words of comfort and solidarity – “I’m thinking of you; we’re praying for you; you and your family are in our hearts.”
- Offer help or support, if possible – “We’d like to contribute something to help. Here are some ideas…” [Be specific]
What is the best sympathy message for email?
The best sympathy email acknowledges the person who died along with the grief of those left behind. It expresses sorrow and sympathy, and offers support, help, and comfort.
When I heard about [name’s] death, my heart immediately went out to you. [S]he was a great person, and will be sorely missed. My condolences to you and your whole family!
I’m here for you in any way you need, and I’d really like to help in some way, if possible. I’ll text you later with some ideas. Thinking of you in this difficult time,
What can I say instead of “I’m sorry for your loss”?
Sometimes, you want to say something better than the traditional (and, to some, worn-out) phrases.
Here are some ideas:
What do I put in the subject line in a sympathy email?
No matter how short or long they may be, email subjects lines are one of the most important components of the overall email. They let the recipient know, at a glance, something of what the message will be about.
So it can be difficult to know just what to put in the subject line of your sympathy email. We suggest keeping it short, sweet, and to the point.
Here are some example subject lines:
- My Condolences
- My Sympathies
- So Sorry for Your Loss…
- In Loving Memory
- In Loving Memory of [Name]
- A little message for you…
- Just checking in…
- Thinking of you
- Here for you if you need anything
What should the salutation be?
If you are a close friend or peer, simply use the person’s name as you normally would. If you are writing to a relative, it is appropriate to use their relational form of address, i.e., Uncle Dave or Grandma Sorenson.
And if you are addressing a business or professional person, use Mr., Mrs., or Ms., followed by their full name or just the surname.
For the email itself, you have many options to begin or address the message. Some of the more common are:
- Dear [Name or Relation]
- Dearest [Name]
- My dear/dearest [Name]
For more professional contacts, use a formal address (Ms or Mr) and their name. And for more intimate acquaintances, you can use a nickname, pet name, or other term of endearment.
- My dear friend
- Hey Mugs
How do I sign a sympathy email?
When it gets down to actually writing and signing a sympathy email, there are three main steps to consider:
- Begin with a message of comfort, like “Dear [Name], I was so very sorry to hear about [Name of decedent]. I know that anything I say to you right now wouldn’t even come close to offering you the comfort you need, but I wanted you to know that I’m here for you.”
- Share a special memory you have of the deceased. “I’m not sure if [Name] ever told you this story, but it’s one of my most cherished memories of him/her. It all started when…”
- Offer your closing remarks and signature. Keep it short, warm and as comforting as possible. Here are few examples:
- “Again, my heartfelt condolences to your and your family.”
- “Sincerely and with condolences”
- “Prayerfully” or “With prayers and deep sympathy”
- “In loving memory”
For a much more detailed description of how to sign a sympathy card, see here.
What can I say instead of “sympathy”?
A “sympathy message” simply means “an expression of comfort in time of grief.”
Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else because of something that has happened to them.
We often talk about it and feel sympathetic when someone has died, or something bad has happened, saying ‘Give them my sympathy’, or ‘I really feel for them’.
As a concept, sympathy is closely connected to both empathy and compassion. You may find our pages: What it Empathy? and Compassion useful too.
Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion
What is the distinction between sympathy, empathy and compassion? The words are often used interchangeably, but they do have important differences.
Some Working Definitions
sympathy n. power of entering into another’s feelings or mind: … compassion
empathy n. the power of entering into another’s personality and imaginatively experiencing his experiences.
compassion n. fellow-feeling, or sorrow for the sufferings of another
Chambers English Dictionary, 1989 edition
These definitions, however, do not necessarily help to establish the difference. It may be helpful to look at the origin of the words.
Sympathy comes from the Greek syn, meaning with and pathos, or suffering.
Compassion is from the Latin com, meaning with, and passus, to suffer.
In other words, sympathy and compassion have exactly the same root, but in different languages.
Empathy also comes from the Greek, from en meaning in, and pathos, again for suffering. There is, therefore, a much stronger sense of experience in empathy.
As our page on Compassion argues, however, there has come to be an element of action in the use of the word compassion which is lacking from sympathy or empathy.
A feeling of compassion, then, usually results in some action, perhaps donating money or time. Sympathy tends to begin and end with fellow-feeling, or ‘expressing your sympathy’.
Causes of Sympathy
For people to experience sympathy towards someone else, several elements are necessary:
You must be paying attention to the other person.
Being distracted limits our ability to feel sympathy.
The other person must seem in need in some way.
Our perceptions of the level of need will determine the level of sympathy. For example, someone with a graze on their knee will get less sympathy than someone else with a broken leg.
We are also much more likely to be sympathetic towards someone who appears to have done nothing to ‘earn’ their misfortune.
The child who falls while running towards a parent will get more sympathy than the one who was doing something that they had been specifically told not to do, and has fallen as a result.
Sympathy in Healthcare
The tendency to feel more sympathy towards those who did not ‘deserve’ their problems can be a major problem for healthcare workers. There is a tendency to feel less sympathy to those suffering from ‘lifestyle’ diseases, such as diabetes resulting from obesity, or lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, than those who have contracted similar diseases with no obvious cause.
Healthcare workers, and others, need to fight against this tendency, because we are all human, and all equally deserving of care and support during difficult times.
The level of sympathy is also likely to be affected by the specific circumstances.
We are generally more likely to be more sympathetic towards someone who is geographically closer than someone on the other side of the world. This is spatial proximity.
We are also more sympathetic towards people who are more like us. This is referred to as social proximity.
Furthermore, we are also more likely to be sympathetic if we have experienced the same situation personally and found it difficult. However, ongoing exposure to the same or a similar situation will dampen sympathy.
For example, the first time we see pictures or hear about an earthquake, we may be motivated to donate money to relieve suffering. If, however, there is another earthquake elsewhere a few days later, we may feel less sympathetic, a situation sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue.
Because sympathy is indelibly linked to bad experiences, for example, the death of a family member, it is often appropriate to show your sympathy with someone else.
While this can seem like a formality, the idea is to help the other person to feel better, by showing that you understand that they are having a bad time, and may need some help.
Sympathy may be expressed either verbally or non-verbally.
Examples of sympathy expressed verbally include:
- Speaking to someone to say how sorry you are about their situation; and
- Sending a card when someone has been bereaved.
Examples of sympathy expressed non-verbally include:
- Patting someone on the shoulder at a funeral;
- Putting a hand on someone’s arm when they tell you their bad news; and
- Dropping your tone of voice when you speak.
Showing Sympathy Appropriately – Ring Theory
A few years ago, psychologist Susan Silk and mediator Barry Goodman devised a simple diagram to help people to respond appropriately to grief, affliction or problems in their own and other people’s lives. They called it Ring Theory.
The idea is simple. Imagine a series of concentric circles. In the middle circle is the person or people who are most directly affected by the trauma. In the next circle are their direct family and closest friends. Outside them are more distant family and friends, then acquaintances and so on. You can have as many circles as you need.
The person at the centre of the circle can say what they like to anyone. They can vent at any time, or in any way. Those beyond that, however, can only vent OUTWARDS. Inwards, they need to express sympathy and provide comfort.
The rule is simple: Comfort In, Dump Out.
If you stick to that rule, you will be able to provide sympathy effectively, and also vent your concerns in an appropriate way, to those who can best help you to deal with them.
Sympathy is innate, but it is also learned
Children as young as 12 months old have been observed to show sympathetic behaviour, for example, giving their parents a toy without being prompted, or crying when another baby cries. These are very basic sympathetic responses. Some children are inherently more social and sympathetic.
However, as children learn and develop, their ability to feel sympathy also develops as they learn from their parents and others around them. Given that adolescents are often described as exhibiting selfish behaviour, it seems likely that ability to sympathise continues to develop throughout childhood and adolescent, and probably into adulthood as well.
This means that it is possible to develop your ability to feel and express sympathy even as an adult.
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It’s often difficult to find the right words for a condolence message. Emotions are heightened—whether they’re ours or the ones we witness in the bereaved—and we worry about making matters worse or just want to avoid it altogether.
There are no perfect words of sympathy, nothing that will make grief disappear. However, heartfelt expressions of support and understanding can be treasured after a difficult loss. Don’t worry about perfection: a brief note to tell the grieving family that you care will bring comfort during a painful time.
Jump ahead to these sections:
Sympathy cards and notes can be a way to offer emotional or practical support to the bereaved after a loss. They can be a way to acknowledge and empathize with the feelings of others. And they can be a way to share your feelings as well as a memory of the person who has died.
Sometimes the newly bereaved are in a traumatized state and are not able to speak with you. Sending condolences, along with a gift basket, fresh flowers, or another sympathy gift if you are unable to attend the funeral or memorial services is a way to let them know that they are in your thoughts.
Components of Signing a Heartfelt Sympathy Card Message
Even a brief sympathy message can be warm and comforting. It may provide guidance and support that can help the bereaved deal with the passing. Ideally, the tone of the note should convey tenderness, respect, and empathy.
Be sensitive to the cultural and religious beliefs of the individual or family when reaching out. Unless you share religious traditions, you may wish to avoid imposing your views on death and the afterlife and focus on secular words with shared impact. Humor may be appropriate in some situations, but tread carefully and be sure to acknowledge the gravity of the situation before attempting to lighten the mood.
The following can help you write a heartfelt sympathy note:
- Salutations and opening words
- Condolence phrases for the body of the letter
- Phrases for offering help
- Final thoughts and blessings
Salutations and opening words
Begin by greeting the recipient and expressing condolences for their loss. For example: “To The Jeffersons, we extend our heartfelt sympathy,” or “Dearest friend, please accept my sincere condolences.”
Condolence phrases for the body of a letter
Next, take a moment to say something kind about the deceased, whether that’s a memory or an overall statement of his/her legacy. For example: “Sheila was an extraordinary woman. So many in our community will miss her terribly.” Or, “I will remember your nephew as a loving and caring boy who always had a smile.”
Phrases for offering help
A condolence message is a perfect opportunity to make an offer to help the bereaved in practical ways. Whether it’s errands that they’re unable to deal with, meals, transportation, or just a shoulder to cry on, there are many ways to be useful. It’s even better they don’t need to follow up and ask, as they may be too overwhelmed.
For instance, if you’re bringing food for the grieving family, say “I’m making a casserole and will drop it off so that you don’t need to cook for a few days.”
Final thoughts and blessings
Before signing off, offer a statement of support for the bereaved. For example: “Our sympathy and thoughts are with you.” Or, “May your many memories of Steven help to sustain you at this most difficult time.”
Share your wishes, just in case.
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Sympathy Card Signature Examples
We hope the suggestions below help you get past any obstacles in your card writing journey. You may need to mix and match, add your own flourishes, or change details to make the messages fit, but you will have a wealth of options and ideas to draw from.
Expressing condolences can be awkward, and most of us don’t have much practice, but remember that saying something is almost always better than saying nothing at all.
If you can muster up the courage to address the loss and grief directly, you will be helping yourself, the bereaved, and the relationship you share. If you haven’t said or written anything, it often becomes even more difficult to see the person who is grieving and begin a conversation face-to-face.
Don’t worry about perfection, just let your sincerity and compassion shine through. Avoid writing things that dismiss the recipient’s grief, such as “He/She is in a better place,” or “You can always [have another child/remarry].”
If you’re signing as a close family member
- Our family will always endure and we will support each other through this painful loss. With love at this difficult time, [Signature].
If you’re signing as a close friend
- My heart aches for you. Please know that I am here if you need anything. I’ll touch base next week to see how you’re doing. Remembering you and [Name] today and always, [Signature]
If you’re signing from a business
- We are grateful to have you as a member of our team and are deeply saddened to hear of your loss. You are in our thoughts. Wishing you healing, [Signature]
If you’re signing as a coworker
- I am so sorry to learn of your loss. May you be surrounded by strength and nurtured by compassion. May time bring you peace and healing, [Signature]
If you’re signing as a group
- Losing a loved one is painful, but know we’re with you as you grieve. We hope we can offer comfort and strength during this difficult time. Our sincere condolences, [Signature].
Condolences, In Closing
We hope the suggestions above are helpful in your card writing journey. Of course, feel free to take what you need, and make these messages your own so they speak to your loved one in the way you feel is best.