Proper Etiquette for Online Condolences

In addition to traditional gestures like flowers, online condolences are becoming popular.
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Thanks to electronic communications, American families receive personal, handwritten mail only once every seven weeks, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Today, mourners can even send electronic condolence notes, once among the most formal and traditional correspondence. Most etiquette experts still prefer the personal touch of a handwritten note, but electronic media condolences are increasingly acceptable.

1 Addressing the Condolences

Before sending condolences via email, ensure the bereaved uses email regularly, warns the Emily Post Institute. If you use a funeral home’s online condolence registry, staff will usually pass notes on to the family or even include them on a commemorative disc, which are becoming more popular, reports the National Funeral Directors Association. Whatever the form, address the person you know best, advises the Emily Post Institute; if a friend has lost her father, for instance, write to your friend, not her mother. If you knew the deceased but not her family, however, address the widower or oldest child; you may add “and family.”

2 Composing the Condolences

Sympathy notes should be brief and personal, including a short remembrance of a trait or anecdote about the deceased, and offering to help in ways you can, such as providing meals. The Emily Post Institute recommends you follow up an emailed condolence by calling, writing or attending the funeral. Unlike handwritten condolences, email does not require acknowledgements or thank-you notes.

Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.