Counseling One Another

Helping you grow in God's all-sufficient truth and grace

Counseling One Another

RERUN – How to Write a Good Sympathy Card

Since my mother’s death, two years ago this past Saturday, I have radically altered the way I write in sympathy cards. I now know more fully the pain that death brings into our lives and, having received so many impacting words of comfort from others, am convinced I will never write in a card the same way I did before.

A couple weeks ago, while putting up her decorations, my wife found dozens of sympathy cards mixed up in a box of old Christmas cards. She separated them out for me and placed them on my dresser. Yesterday afternoon, following my usual Sunday nap in the recliner, I read through them and the careful, loving words of others again ministered to my heart and mind. As I read them over, four words came to mind. I offer them to you, along with examples of what others wrote to our family, as suggestions for you to apply in order to become a more effective “minister of comfort” to those who grieve (2 Cor 1:4).

PERMISSION: Give them permission to grieve or be shocked. Use words that communicate freedom to experience and release pain.

The pain of your loss is greater when your heart has been touched deeply and your life affected more profoundly by the one you have loved.

We are never prepared for the loss of a loved one, but God’s grace and mercy are new every morning. He is faithful in times of grief and He, with His Word and His children, will strengthen you in the days ahead.

HONESTY: If you don’t know what to say then admit it. Don’t feel pressured to come up with some profound word that does not represent the real you. Include brief Scripture quotations of comfort. Remember, the one thing Job’s “comforters” did right is they sat with him for one week w/o saying a word (Job 2:13). Your unspoken presence will mean the world to those who grieve.

If we knew what to say, we would not know how to say it. We are asking God to give grace running over as you and your family deal with this difficult hour.

EMPATHY: Show them you understand without actually saying, “I understand what you are going through.”

I was deeply saddened to hear of your mother’s death. I lost my own mother in a similarly unexpected way and I well remember the sense of shock. I pray the comfort of the Spirit of Christ will be with you and your family, especially your little ones who will be without their grandmother at Christmas.

ASSISTANCE: Open your ears to listen to them and your heart to serve them. [Here’s a very valuable comment from a reader: “If you offer to help in any way, reach out to the grieving person. They probably won’t call you but if you call and say ‘let’s get a cup of coffee’ they will probably take you up on it. When you go be ready to listen.”]

My deepest sympathy to you in the passing of your mom. Having gone through this just two years ago I understand and share your pain. I always thought the passing of an elderly parent would not be that hard. But I found out I was wrong; it is. Waves of emotions or memories wash over often when least expected. Trust me. It does get better with time. If you ever need a brother just to listen, feel free to call me any time. I am here for you.

In all that you do assure them, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps 34:18).

Recommended Resource: Comfort the Grieving

[Originally posted December 12, 2011]

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  1. What an excellent, practical help! This is such useful information which I imagine people rarely are taught. Thank you for passing this on!

  2. Thank you for sharing. These are simple and easy to remember for use in a time when most of us have no clue what to say or write.

  3. I lost my dad unexpectedly when I was 17 and one of my best friends earlier this year. The love and concern shown for my family and me was most evidenced through cards that were written similarly to the premises above or individuals who are very thoughtful in their approach. I am thankful for the painful experiences that leave me much more careful when trying to encourage others who are going through the loss of someone close. Thank you for this post.

  4. This is so wonderful. It is always such a difficult thing to encourage others with truly comforting words. So this is so nice to be able to gain insight on how to be gentle and wise about doing so.

  5. Excellent post!
    I lost my parents in a car accident when I was 20, and one of the most comforting things people wrote in their sympathy cards to me was a memory they had of my parents. It brought me comfort to know that others were mourning, too–it affirmed the depth of my grief and brought me joy to know how my parents positively influenced others.

  6. Thank you for this timely message. A friend of mine died of cancer last month. I have started an number of letters to his wife, who I do not know well. Each time I couldn’t even put the pen to paper because I just did not know what to say. Today it is done. Thanks.

  7. Just like all the others I really appreciated this post. Thank you so much for sharing knowledge based on experience. I always feel bad sending the “same dumb” card as everyone else. These thoughts have made me realize the way that I could change that. I lost my first grandparent I knew at 5 years old, so I started to understand some of this at a very young age.

  8. Kind, thoughtful words are such a blessing when grieving a loss. I know so many times we dont what to say because we don’t want to use trite empty phrases. Comforting them with truth and love will never “fix” problems or take away pain, but it is a practical way to show Christ’s love. Thank you for these helpful thoughts.