How to write a letter of condolence
Written by William HansonThe English Manner, The UK’s Leading Etiquette and Protocol Training Institute 310 310
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William joined The English Manner in 2008 before taking ownership in 2019. He is widely regarded as the freshest and most trusted authority on etiquette and civility, with his relative youth and old-fashioned values making him an arbiter of modern manners.Connect with William Hanson on LinkedIn Follow William Hanson on Instagram
9 October 2023
Many people have said that in a time of grieving, letters of condolence from friends of the deceased have helped temper the grief. But many people, especially emotion-averse Brits, can struggle with knowing how to write a condolence letter.
Such letters should be sent out as soon as possible after hearing of the death and usually go to the next of kin.
If your friend’s father died, however, but the next of kin was the deceased’s wife, then write to both your friend (the deceased’s child) and the next of kin (wife). In such an instance, make sure you say who you are in your letter to the next of kin if you are unsure they will know who you are.
The contents of the letter must come from the heart. Phoney sentiment will stand out, especially to British ears. Remember, however, that letters of condolence are mainly to comfort the bereaved. Say one or two positive things about the deceased, but the rest should be directed at the recipient. If you offer to help, then make sure you mean it.
Such letters – which should ideally be written on social correspondence paper, instead of manufactured condolence cards – are also a good means of saying whether you will be at the funeral. If you cannot attend, then, just as with responses to everyday invitations, you do not need to state why you cannot attend.
Although thirty years ago, to send an ‘In Sympathy’ card would have been tantamount to poor taste, but their use is now much more widespread and can be useful if you did not know the deceased well enough to write a letter but wish to show your sympathy to your grieving friend.
Do not write such a letter if the death notice has instructed that the next of kin is not receiving letters at this time.
An example condolence letter is thus:
It was with great sadness that I learned of Ruth’s death. She was such a warm and caring woman and I know both her friends and family will miss her deeply. I remember her kindness to my mother during her operation many years ago.
Although there is little that can be said and done to ease your pain, if there is anything George or I can do to help, please do not hesitate to ask us.
Yours with very best wish and much love,
Mary KingleyAn example of how to write a condolence letter
A letter of condolence is just that, not an email.
If you receive such letters, they do not need to be replied to until after the funeral.