Sending a bereavement card is one of the first things we think about doing when we know that someone has died. But so many of us struggle with finding the right words to say when we write it. In this blog Bianca Neumann, Head of Bereavement at Sue Ryder, gives some insight into her experience of receiving cards when her mum died, and some advice and ideas about what you can put in a bereavement card.
When I returned from Germany after my mother had died in very difficult circumstances, I came back to my life here in the UK which seemed like nothing had changed. My house looked the same, it smelled the same, it was a Sunday and I was due to get back to work on the Monday. Business as usual, like those things I experienced and felt while in Germany with my mum had not arrived here yet.
Then, on the table, my friend had put a bereavement card from everyone at work. The words felt strange and alien. This had just landed in my life and I had no idea how to make sense of it all, no blueprint.
But what was nice was knowing that work was still work and had not changed. It was something familiar and normal. People were thinking about me. I knew that some of them had experienced bereavement too, and would know what I was going through.
The card said: “Each morning is a new day”. I still remember this note now and whenever it feels hard to get up, I remember: this is a new day. Tomorrow is another one. It helped - and continues to help - putting that day’s feelings into perspective.
At Sue Ryder, we know that many people struggle with knowing what to put in a bereavement or sympathy card. But, really, the most important thing when writing one is to keep it real. Remember that you know the person you are writing to. Use this knowledge. They don't need to be treated like a patient. Think about your friend or family member's cultural norms and how they usually handle tough times.
And here is a secret: cards or words will not take away the pain. They will not stop the crying and yearning, but the card does say to someone: “When you feel ready to turn towards life again, there are people waiting who have been thinking about you and love you. You have people in your world that are here for you.”
This connecting bridge is a great way to reach out to someone, to show them you care and are ready for when they are.
What should you write in a bereavement card?
Here are some phrases, words and ideas about what you could write:
- I know you are heartbroken about the death of such an amazing and important man/woman/boy/girl/person in your life. I know how much [insert the name of the person who has died] meant to you, and I can't imagine what this loss feels like.
- I am so sorry to hear that [insert the name of the person who has died] has died. I know nothing we can say can ease the pain.
- I am so sorry for your loss. He/She/They filled a room with laughter and they will be so missed.
- I am thinking of you at this difficult time and sending you a big hug and lots of love.
- I am so sorry for your loss. I'll touch base with you in a couple of weeks and when you're ready, let's meet and go to [their favourite place].
Then - and this is the meaningful bit - share a brief memory of the person as well. For example:
- I am so sorry to hear about [insert the name of the person who has died]. They were such an incredible person and I will never forget [insert a memory or anecdote].
You could also include an offer of help, such as bringing over some food or helping with shopping. If your friend doesn't want to open the door, leave them a note. Or go over and pick them up to see if they want to go for a game of pool, a walk, a coffee or a drink. People need to know that they are not forgotten about.
You could end your card with the words I wrote further up in this blog if you don’t know how to sign it off: When you feel ready to turn towards life again there are people waiting who have been thinking about you and love you. You have people in your world that are here for you.
Keep checking in after you’ve sent your sympathy card
Remember that grief is forever. Set yourself a calendar reminder to check in with them in a few weeks, and again after that, especially after the one-year anniversary when people often cease to offer support. You can also read our page on what to say to someone who is grieving, for more ideas if it's difficult to find the right words.
Further support around grief and bereavement
- Watch our series of Grief Kind Classes - short videos from Sue Ryder bereavement experts about supporting others with grief and bereavement
- Find out more about our Grief Kind campaign and how we’re encouraging people across the UK to meet grief with warmth and acceptance, rather than fear. You can share your own ideas on social media using the hashtag #GriefKind too.
- Order our free, limited-edition Grief Kind sympathy card packs as a way to check in on your friend throughout their grief journey.
- Get more advice about how to help someone who has been bereaved, including tips about what to say or do to make sure your loved one feels heard and supported.
Head of Bereavement
Bianca is a healthcare professional and experienced psychologist and hypnotherapist, with a demonstrated history of working in the hospice, hospital and healthcare industry.