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 in to her experience of receiving cards when her mum died, and some advice and ideas about what you can write 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 bereavements 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 write 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.
Or perhaps: We were 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.
Then - and this is the meaningful bit! - share a brief memory of the person as well.
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
- For more ideas on how you can support loved ones who are grieving, visit our Grief Kind pages. You can also order our limited-edition Grief Kind sympathy card packs, with special messaging to help you give people support following a bereavement.
- Visit our bereavement information pages for further advice on how to support others and yourself through grief and bereavement.
Head of Bereavement