How to Reply to a Condolence Letter

Receiving sympathy notes during a time of grief shows that others support you.
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Following the death of a loved one, it's customary to be flooded with expressions of sympathy from family and friends. Although you shouldn't feel obligated to write back immediately upon receiving a condolence letter, it's appropriate to do so when you feel able -- ideally within two months of the funeral date. Don't pressure yourself to write a lengthy message; a brief, handwritten note on piece of note paper is acceptable.

1 When to Write

A handwritten letter or note is appropriate to send to those who offer their condolences, but you don't have to reply in writing to every expression of sympathy you receive. According to The Emily Post Institute, you should respond to handwritten condolence notes, flowers and donations made in the deceased person's name and other notable acts of support. You have the option to write to those who send emails, post sympathy messages online or to thank people who attended the funeral or visitation. In these cases, an email or phone call is suitable.

2 Reply Succinctly

Begin your handwritten response by writing "Dear" and the name of the person you're acknowledging. Keep the letter succinct and use an appreciative tone. Tailor your response to the person's specific actions. For example, write that the person's thoughtfully worded sympathy card holds an important place in your heart. You don't have to offer much beyond a simple thank you. A card's body can be nothing more than: "Our entire family appreciates your kind words during this difficult time. Your card means a lot to us all." Sign your note with a closing such as "sincerely," and write your name.

3 Get Help From Others

If you have a significant number of people to whom you need to respond, have a family member or even a friend write on your behalf. For example, a relative could write, "Mary and Stephen appreciate your kindness and want you to know that your words were important to them." Although some funeral homes can provide printed notes that express your thanks for offers of condolence, it's better to send a personal message, rather than a preprinted one. If you opt for the latter, add a handwritten sentence below the message, such as, "Thank you for your sympathy during our time of grief."

4 Sample Letters

If you've having trouble finding the right words to use, write a message such as:

"Dear Bob and Sue: Many thanks for the letter and the flowers following Harold's death. We appreciate you keeping us in your thoughts.Sincerely, Wendy and David."

Alternatively, you could write a message such as:

"Dear Arthur: Your considerate words have given our family solace during this difficult time. We are grateful to have you as a friend. Many thanks, Trudy and Ed."

Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.