Sympathy Tips from Our Community

The best thing anyone said to me when my daughter was dying: “This is bullshit, you don’t deserve it, and I wish it wasn’t happening to you.”

I love it so much. It doesn’t try to fix anything. Instead, it acknowledges the person’s pain, assuages the unnecessary guilt they’re feeling for something likely outside of their control, and admits that nothing can be done. But mostly, it says, “I’m here sitting in this with you."


My best friend lost her Mom recently after a long and awful battle with Cancer. Before her Mom died, while she was in hospice, I sent my friend your New Unknowns card. I specifically avoided saying anything about death but focused on how I knew that her life was changing and that I was there for her. 

I paired it with a Starbucks gift card as she was flying back and forth to be with her Mom weekly and I knew she needed her lattes and some self-care. I know how draining, emotionally & physically it is to be a caretaker.

-Wendy S.

We are usually the ones to make that final decision for our beloved pets, I know a lot of people have guilt or question if they did the right thing. It’s nice to get encouragement from others to know that the decisions they made were merciful as well as being the final act of true love for their pets.

-Marie Z

We have been sending the card a few weeks after, and another card 6 months or a year later. That second card is tied to the anniversary of the loss or event or an important day like the loved one’s birthday or their favorite holiday etc.

We usually say something like “We’re thinking of you and missing the loved one. “They used to make us smile when they XXXX” or a special memory and tell them we miss the person often.

If they’re not local, I sometimes put in a gift card for a coffee shop so they can have a cup of coffee or tea in their loved one's memory.

The words we say don’t need to be perfect, the recipients appreciate the time and thought and that the memory of the person lives on. At least that’s my reaction when I get cards or notes on anniversaries of losses in my life.


The most healing sympathy cards for me, when my mother passed away, were cards that shared a memory of my mother that was personal to them. My mother died of Alzheimer’s and unfortunately, the disease robbed her not only of her memories but also her personality.

The last years were very hard as she became violent when scared, unfiltered with her thoughts, and of course, forgetful of who I was (every time I came to visit she thought I was having an affair with my dad). Those years clouded my memories of my mother as a happy, fun-loving woman.

Having other people share something about my mother that brought back those happy days was a huge balm to my soul.

-Julie B.

My mom passed away in August, it’s been almost 10 months. The ache is still there. People graciously reached out a lot during the first month or two after she died but then it sort of stops. People have busy lives and they’ve done their kind part of reaching out and sending condolences.

I wish there were a one-year sympathy card. That day is going to crush me and a little encouragement via the mail would really help.

-Kerri B.

I feel as though sympathy cards can come off as pity, I’m better than you because you are experiencing tragedy or crisis. I didn’t realize that until I shared last fall about a breast cancer scare accompanied by hair loss. The responses that I got from other women was heartbreaking. They weren’t messages of we are in this together or here is my experience. They were I’m sorry that’s your situation or you are going through that. I felt more alone. So incredibly alone. Truly heartbroken.

My step-father died in early December. I’d never met his new wife, but I sent her cards for Christmas and his birthday in mid-January with a book of poetry. He was a poet and enjoyed reading. I never heard from her but it gave me ease to know I could reach out to her.

For Father’s Day, in honor of him and after passing, I sent her family a card thanking them for his care in his final years. Again, I felt an ease knowing I could be present for them and show appreciation for their dedication to him.


Based on my experience of losing both parents at the same time due to a sudden accident, here are some suggestions on how to support a grieving person:

  • Do not ask them to decide things whenever possible. Avoid phrases like "do you need to ___?" Instead, simply put on your empathy pants and take action. Many people don't want to overstep or overwhelm, but that tends to create a vacuum between positive intentions and actual actions.
  • Reduce their mental load whenever possible. Grief brain is in a state of shock and seemingly simple decisions are insanely hard.
  • Send a card as the bare minimum. Do not expect a response. A care package is a nice step up.
  • Call them. Texting is super impersonal. If they don't answer, leave a caring message and don't expect a call back. Expecting a grieving person to take initiative on things like making calls is unfair. As a support person, take the initiative. It's easier to answer a ringing phone than to make a call. Human connection is the buoy that can keep a grieving person afloat.

Grief happens when the life you want is no longer an option. This looks many different ways. EVERYONE experiences grief. Until it happens to you, you don't see it coming.

As a universal experience, our culture's avoidance of the topic is insane. Follow instagram accounts like to learn more about how different facets of what people experience.

I've started a book called Finding the Words by Colin Campbell. The title jumped out at me because so often people say "I have no words." That is not a comforting thing to hear. It shuts down a conversation.

People think asking questions about a dead person will be triggering, but that is erroneous. The only thing that helps me feel better is talking about how wonderful my parents are, memories we shared, places we traveled. (Read more here.)

Talking with other grieving people, I've learned that asking follow up questions is a super helpful way to keep a conversation flowing. If I messaged about something making me sad, the person who asked a follow up question helped me flow through the feeling. Alternatively, receiving an emoji just stops the conversation.

I think people who have experienced grief seem to have a 6th sense about these kinds of things. They aren't hard for others to replicate. Give it a try!

-Siena B.

Get our 8 best sympathy cards (plus a mini reference guide) wiht our Sympathy Pack

Thank you to everyone who shared. I think this will be a valuable post to come to over and over, because it's such an important topic. 

Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment with your experiences.

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