Best Practices in Writing a Condolence Email

A guide to supporting colleagues and acquaintances with a heartfelt condolence email

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By:

Liz Eddy

After a person has passed away, you may wish to share condolences with the friends and family. One way to do so without overwhelming the grieving party can be through email, which is a personal, but low-pressure option for sharing your support. Email is also helpful because it allows you the opportunity to craft the specifics of what you’re going to say and what support you’re planning to share. 

When it comes to creating a heartfelt and supportive condolence email, Lantern is here to help. We believe every individual deserves the resources and information they need to navigate the end-of-life journey, support grieving friends, and plan a memorial service with ease. Explore our growing library of tools and resources for yourself or your loved ones to begin. 

When Is It Appropriate to Write a Condolence Email?

While there are many reasons to consider writing a condolence email, it’s important to decide if it’s the most appropriate way of sharing your words or support with a friend or colleague. Here are a few of the reasons you’ll want to consider sharing your words via email rather than in person or over the phone. 

You Don’t Want to Overwhelm Someone 

When a person is preparing a memorial service and also navigating the early stages of grief after loss, too many phone calls from well-wishers can be overwhelming. That’s not to say it isn’t important to share your support and kind words, but you want to consider ways in which you can reduce the amount of pressure and responsibility on the person’s shoulders. 

A condolence email can be an excellent method for sharing kind words without the expectation of a response. They can read it after things have quieted down and know that you are thinking of them. 

You Have a Professional Relationship 

When sharing condolences with someone, it’s always important to consider the type of relationship you share. If you are a professional acquaintance or colleague or know someone in passing, a condolence email can be an appropriate way to reach out without overstepping. 

Many professional relationships are entirely virtual in the modern-day, and it’s appropriate for your condolences to be shared virtually, as well. It’s also helpful when you don’t have access to a person’s phone number or address. A condolence email shows you’re thinking of them without adding any extra pressure or responsibility to their load.  

The Information Was Shared Via Email 

If the information about a person’s passing or an upcoming memorial service was shared via email initially, it’s entirely acceptable to respond to the email in kind. While this isn’t the most common way to share information after a loss, you can safely follow the lead of the person who is grieving when it comes to communication and tone. 

You Plan to Follow Up

There are many different methods for reaching out to a person who has experienced a loss, and you’re not limited to one. If you’re planning to travel for the memorial service or simply want to share your condolences early before sharing a donation or flower arrangement, email can be a useful first step. 

Always take care to avoid overstepping your boundaries when a person is grieving, but providing support and offering condolences via whatever method you believe is most appropriate can show you are thinking of them and there to listen if they need.

What to Include in a Condolence Email

If you have decided a condolence email is the best method for contacting a friend or colleague who has suffered a loss, then it’s a matter of writing an appropriate and supportive message. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider when sending a condolence email. 

Start With a Short Message of Sympathy 

While each individual condolence note will vary, depending on your personal relationship and the method of communication, nearly every kind will include some message of sympathy or well wishes. The way you write that message will be unique and personal, but it can be simple, as well. Express your sympathy for their passing in honest and supportive terms in a tone that feels appropriate for your relationship. 

Share Memories

If you were acquainted with the person who has passed, you might wish to share some memories of the times you shared or even stories you’ve heard about them. For instance, you may want to refer to how the person you are writing to always spoke highly of their friend or relative, or how you were grateful for the opportunity to meet them at a specific event. This will help to give the letter a more personal and honest touch. 

Be Aware of Tone

We often use language or supporting graphics when communicating online or via social media that we wouldn’t use in person. While there are many benefits to online communication, it’s important to take an extra moment when writing a condolence letter to ensure that it maintains the appropriate tone. 

It’s best to avoid the use of emoticons or other graphics, as well as any online shorthand or colloquialisms. You want to share your support without distraction.

What to Avoid in a Condolence Email 

When sharing your condolences, whether in person, over the phone, or via email, you want to be certain that you’re supporting and helping your friend or family member in the best way possible. We often feel uncomfortable or unsure after a person has suffered a loss, which may mean we don’t always know what to say or how best to express our condolences. Here are a few things you’ll want to avoid when writing a condolence email or note. 

At Least…

Our instinct is often to minimize the pain our friend or colleague is experiencing, but there’s simply no rushing grief. When we use phrases that qualify or try to downplay a person’s loss, even with the best of intentions, it can make the person feel as though they are grieving in the wrong way or that they don’t have your full support on their journey. It’s important to acknowledge the scope of the loss, rather than pretending it doesn’t really exist. 

It Was Their Time

Phrases like “It was their time” or “Everything happens for a reason” can serve to undermine the grief the other person is feeling and have them wondering exactly what that reason was. If you know the individual through a specific spiritual organization, you both may find peace in sharing words, poems, or beliefs. Otherwise, it’s best not to assume the person’s religious beliefs or to reference larger spirituality. 

I Know How You Feel 

Even if you do have a similar experience in your past, it’s best to avoid referencing it unless you know the other person wants to hear your insight. While you may be looking to connect with them or share helpful resources or tools, it’s important to avoid centering yourself in the conversation surrounding their grief. 

Make it clear that you’re open to sharing your journey, but try to avoid speaking over or taking attention away from those who are grieving. 

How Can I Help? 

When you send a condolence email, there’s a very strong possibility that you won’t receive an email in return. And that’s okay! The purpose of your email was to share your sympathies, not to add more pressure to those who are grieving. That’s why you don’t want to ask, “how can I help?” Not only does it add more pressure to their plate to find a task for you to do, but it requires a response to your email, which they may not have the time or emotional energy for. 

Instead, if the situation is appropriate, offer to take on a specific task. Tell them you’ll be by with food or gift cards for local restaurants or offer to help them with a work or home task. It takes some of the responsibility from their shoulders and still allows you to help in a way that matters. 

Summary 

A condolence email can be a useful way to reach out to a friend or colleague who has experienced a loss. When writing a condolence email, it is best to be personal and supportive, but the email can be brief. It should be unique to your individual relationship and may be followed up with flowers or a card, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Navigating the end-of-life journey, whether personally or as a support system for friends and family, can be challenging. Lantern is here to help answer some of the pressing questions about grief, planning, and helping others. Explore our library of information and resources to find your own support or help those around you with ease today. 

Categories: Supporting Someone Who's Grieving, Grief in the Workplace,

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