Sending Condolences Tips

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How to Write Sympathy Cards

Sending sympathy cards to the family of someone who has died can serve two purposes. The first and obvious one is that it lets you extend your condolences to the family that is left behind. The second, often unrealized, purpose is a chance to express your feelings about the death.

It is acceptable to send sympathy cards with a simple short message such as "With deep sadness".The family will know that you have them in your thoughts. However, taking the time to write a paragraph or two to include with your sympathy card can be even more healing.

Writing your thoughts down is not as difficult as it seems. You can tell a fond story about the individual, say what it was about them that you liked or explain why you are going to miss them. It is often much easier to express your feelings in writing than in person to the bereaved family.

Begin by writing a rough draft. Once you have your thoughts organized write it in the card that you have selected.

Mail the sympathy card in a timely manner. You should send it as soon as you hear about the death.


Sympathy Etiquette for Major Religions

Each of the prominent religions has its own funeral etiquette. When you wish to show your sympathy it is helpful to know what is accepted in that religion. Some of the most common ones are covered here.

Protestant, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian

The funeral service is usually lead by a minister and is most often held at a funeral home. There will be visiting hours at the funeral home before the service where you can pay your condolences. It is appropriate to send flowers, cards or make a donation to charity as a show of sympathy.

Roman Catholic

There is usually a viewing or wake at a funeral home that starts shortly after death. The funeral itself is held in church with a mass 3 days after the death. You can attend the wake and the mass. Appropriate expressions of sympathy are flowers. Food gifts for the family can be sent to their house.


Jewish law dictates burial within 24 hours. The service is officiated by a rabbi and is only attended by the immediate family. After the burial the family will sit in Shiva at home. This lasts seven days. It is appropriate to stop and pay a condolence call within that time frame. Flowers are not accepted. It is customary to bring sweet treats and food. Check to see if the family observes Kosher food laws, if so the food needs to be Kosher.


Services are held in a Mosque and are held shortly after death with a quick burial. When attending, note that men and women are segregated on different sides of the Mosque. Women's heads are covered. You may show your sympathy with a gift of food but do no give funeral flowers.


Sending Funeral Flowers to the Funeral Home

Sending funeral flowers is often the first thing considered when hearing of a death. It is a beautiful way to let the family of the departed person know that they are in your thoughts.

The first step should be to determine whether the family is accepting flowers. Some families prefer that donations be made to a specified charity in lieu of funeral flowers.

If you have decided to send sympathy flowers there are some steps that you need to take.

  • Have the funeral home name and address in hand before contacting the funeral florist.

  • Contact a florist that has experience with funerals. They will be familiar with the flowers and styles that are appropriate for the religious denomination.

  • Immediate family members such as the spouse or child usually purchase the casket spray to adorn the casket.

  • Other family members traditionally purchase large pieces such as a flower covered cross or heart.

  • Friends or coworkers traditionally donate items such as standing sprays or baskets to be displayed at the viewing and funeral.

  • Most funeral homes do not accept delivery of food or fruit baskets.

An experienced funeral florist will be able to guide you in what is appropriate considering your relationship with the deceased or family.


How to Pay a Shiva Call

Jewish tradition holds that the family of someone who dies has a period of mourning that lasts seven days. This is called Sitting Shiva. During this time the family stays home and accepts visitors who pay condolence calls, called a Shiva Call. There are some things to expect and some things that are expected of you as the visitor.

What Is Expected of You

  • Pick an appropriate time, do not visit during Shabbat (the weekly holy day). Ask friends of the family when to visit.

  • Walk in, the door will probably be unlocked. This saves the family from getting up repeatedly.

  • Wash your hands upon entering if water, a basin, and towels are provided.

  • Bring food or have it sent. When you arrive take it straight to the kitchen.

  • Seek out the mourner and offer a handshake or hug, let them lead the conversation.

  • Feel free to talk to friends.

  • Watch the time, the normal time for a Shiva Call is one hour.

What to Expect

  • A tall candle is usually burned for the seven days in rememberance of the person who died.

  • Mirrors are draped with cloth as the mourners are not concerned with their appearance.

  • It is traditional for family members to wear a torn piece of clothing or ribbon to show how their heart is torn.

  • Members of the family may be sitting on the floor to symbolize how they have been brough down by the loss. They may be wearing socks or slippers.

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