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How to write condolence letters

A condolence letter is an expression of sympathy and support to a bereaved family or friend. The most personal of personal letters, condolences should be handwritten, never typed, and should follow the form of the personal letter- that is, with address and the date on the upper right-hand side of the paper.

Your choice of stationery is important. Good-quality white, cream, or gray letter paper is appropriate. Personal letterhead is correct if it is dignified and the color subdued, but avoid bright or whimsical note paper.

Etiquette experts disagree about whether or not it is correct to use a commercial sympathy card. Some feel it is inappropriate at such a sad and deeply personal time; others find it proper provided the message on the card is warm and personal. If you do use one, don’t just sign your name; add a personal note.

It can be difficult to know what to say in a condolence letter, since nothing you can possibly say is really adequate. If the bereaved is a personal friend of yours, write to that friend, recounting a fond memory of the relative who died if you knew the relative. If you didn’t know the deceased, concentrate on your friend and how he or she must be feeling. Whatever the situation, make yourself available for help or counsel. Be sure to follow up your letter with a telephone call and, in a month or two, an invitation to do something quiet. Grieving people are most in need of help several months after the funeral.

If a friend of yours has died, write to that friend’s closest relative. If you and the relative aren’t acquainted, explain who you are (college friend, work colleague, fellow club member) and express how much your friendship with the deceased meant to you. Relate specific examples or anecdotes about your deceased friend; such memories will cheer and touch the bereaved family-as will, again, an offer of help and support.