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What is a Condolence Letter?

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  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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A condolence letter is a piece of correspondence sent to someone to express condolences for a death. These letters are classically sent to the lead mourner, although they can also be sent to the extended family and friends of the deceased. Such a letter differs from a condolence card in length, with letters being more detailed and personalized.

People usually send condolence letters when they have a deep personal connection with the deceased or the mourners. They typically include an expression of condolences, followed by a discussion of the life and actions of the deceased, and many people include brief memories or vignettes about the deceased which are designed to illustrate the richness or his or her life. Typically, condolence letters convey a deep appreciation for the personality and life of the deceased, along with offers of assistance to the mourners. At the close of the letter, an additional expression of condolence and support is included.

Typically, a condolence letter is written within two weeks of a death. It is written on formal and simple stationery, and written out by hand, rather than being typed. Typed letters and emails are usually frowned upon by etiquette experts, because of the impersonality of typing. The letter is also personalized to the deceased, with specific references to his or her religious faith, beliefs, personality, and life.

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Mourners greatly appreciate condolence letters, although they may not always be able to respond to them. Many people keep condolence letters as mementos, and they especially enjoy letters which include personal stories or information about the deceased. References to ways in which the deceased influenced the life of the letter-writer are also common in a condolence note, as a way of letting the mourners know that the life of the deceased had value, and that the deceased had an impact on someone's life.

A condolence letter is simply one way of giving condolences, but it is often a very valuable way to extend sympathy and love to mourners, since it can be kept and treasured, unlike a visit or a gift of flowers. Inclusions of photographs and mementos belonging to the deceased can also personalize the letter, and provide something for the mourners to reference when thinking about the deceased. In addition to sending a condolence letter, people who live near the mourners may also attend the funeral or visit the home of the mourners to pay a personal condolence call.

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anon313929
Post 5

“Through letters and cards, families will be able to hold that friendship in their hands and to read those kind words at a time and place that supports their pace of healing.” I got this condolence message from a friend and it really helps me to go through life. I hope this can also help you. Live life to the fullest in spite of having great pains in your heart.

icecream17
Post 4

I think that whatever you write in a sympathy condolence letter will be appreciated. In fact, when my mother died, I cherished those letters more than any arrangement or basket that was sent to my home because when the flowers and the baskets go away you still have those letters.

I know that it is intimidating to write a condolence letter, but I guarantee that the person receiving this wonderful gesture is not going to be critical of the wording. They will be so grateful and touched by the thought of the condolence letter that most people should not worry because the person is merely looking for some words of comfort.

SteamLouis
Post 3

@anamur-- What is the tone and content of your letter if you don't know that family too well?

My boss' mother recently passed away. It has only been five months since I've started working with them and honestly, have not met my boss' family or know much about them.

But I still want to write a condolence letter because my boss has been extremely friendly and helpful to me since I took this job.

I have no idea how to start the letter or what to write about though. Should I just say that I am very sorry to hear about his loss and that I want to extend my condolences to him and his family?

Is it okay to keep it short like that?

serenesurface
Post 2

I agree that condolence letters mean so much to mourners after a recent death. It's not easy to lose someone and one can feel very helpless and alone when it happens.

Receiving condolence letters reminds you that you are not alone and that there are a lot of people who care for you and share your sadness. I also feel that it is a blessing for the deceased one. I think when we remember them and speak about them with others, they can hear us and receive our condolences.

I always make sure to write condolence letters even if I didn't know the family extremely well. I want them to know that I am there for them and share their grievance. I have always gotten messages and phone calls of gratefulness in return.

turquoise
Post 1

It might not be exactly the same, but condolence letters from friends and family may also be read at a funeral or at death anniversaries to remember and honor the deceased. It doesn't always have to be mailed either.

When my grandfather passed away suddenly, my cousin was abroad and could not fly in time for the funeral. She wanted everyone to know how sad she was though and she emailed a letter to my brother where she wrote about her memories with my grandfather and what an amazing person he was. We read the letter at the church event and I know it meant a lot to my cousin to say a few words for him even though she couldn't be there personally.

This might be a little different than condolence letters sent to family members after a death, but I think it's still a condolence letter.

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