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9 October 2023


Many people have said that in a time of grieving, a sympathy letter from friends of the deceased has helped temper the grief. But many people, especially emotion-averse Brits, can struggle with knowing how to write a condolence letter.

To whom do I write the 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.

What should I write in a sympathy letter?

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 – 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.

Can I send a sympathy card instead?

Although thirty years ago, to send an ‘In Sympathy’ card would have been tantamount to poor taste, 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:

Dear Michael

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 all good wishes and much love,

Mary Kingley

An 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.

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