Writing Sympathy Cards: “Sympathy is about using your ears to comfort the heart” – Blake Flannery

Every day hundreds of people (probably many more!) google variations of “what to write in a sympathy card” through which they find this blog. This search will land you on a variety of webpages, the majority of them of a religious persuasion. In an attempt to bring the community of people who are considering thoughtful grieving and community support together, I am reflect on the important writing others have placed on the internet about writing sympathy cards.

My first post on this topic – expressing my personal views and experiences in more detail, can be viewed here.

The first site I found that I like is that of Blake Flannery via hub pages. He has created an engaging “how to” page by taking an honest, straight-forward approach that includes videos, sarcasm, and personal quotes. The frankness in approaching death and grief for people who are figuring out how to support someone who has lost someone is much appreciated.

To view his page, go to: What to Write

He offers advice, such as, “Keep in mind that the person could be feeling any number of different emotions about the loss. Try to keep your message simple, supportive, and short.” The examples provided are a place to start. Of course, the message still needs to be appropriate for the person as well as personalized. His tips for writing messages are insightful, especially making offers for specific ways you can support someone. As I have written in other posts, follow through is vital if you make offers.

I especially like example 15, which mixes memories of the person who has died with a message of support and action to let the person know that you will be there for them during the grieving process.

“I am sorry to hear of your father’s passing. I remember him as a smart and kind man. I know that you have those qualities too and must have gotten them from him. Please know that you are in my thoughts, and you can expect me to call you in the next couple days to see how you are doing.”

Some of the examples are religious or include humor. You know the person you are writing the card to and you know best what your relationship is with them. Don’t write anything that doesn’t feel good in your gut. If humor sounds strange, it probably is. If you know they aren’t religious, perhaps a message about how you are praying for them isn’t the best idea?

I especially love the section he included on what not to say (and his opinions on the examples). Numbers 10 and 11 are great examples of what not to say, and perhaps surprisingly, are things people often say.

10. “We saw it coming. I mean, what did he expect drinking and smoking like that all those years.” (You deserve to die for saying that. Keep it to yourself) My thoughts: Who are we to judge?

11. “All things work out for a reason. There must be a reason this has happened.” (Go ahead and try to explain why this is good) My thoughts: We can find “reason” in anything in our lives, it is human nature to search for “reason,” but don’t force this on someone going through the worst moments of their life.

I whole heartedly agree that these are not appropriate things to say, and should be avoided. Remember, this is not about you and your grief process (or whatever “process” you are going through), writing this card is about letting someone know you are there for them and opening the door for further support.

Finally, I am not an authority on the art of quoting oneself, but I do appreciate the humor Blake shows in it. And, perhaps there is a lack of great quotes on sympathy, so thank you Blake for giving us a few.

“Sympathy is not about using your words to comfort the mind. Sympathy is about using your ears to comfort the heart.” -Blake Flannery


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