How to Write a Sympathy Letter for Loss of a Mother

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Sometimes people prefer to write condolence letters or sympathy letters to someone who recently lost a family member. There are many reasons why.

Jump ahead to these sections: 

Sometimes, people have a difficult time showing their emotions in front of other people. If you feel that you are unable to speak without breaking down into tears, you may consider writing your thoughts in a letter to someone who lost their mom. 

Below are the steps for writing a sympathy letter to a friend who lost their mom. If you want to offer some practical support, consider sharing our post-loss checklist with your friend or family member who's coping with the death of their mother. 

What Should You Include (or Not) in a Sympathy Letter to a Loved One Who Lost Their Mother?

First, let’s start with what not to include when you write a sympathy letter to someone who lost their mom.

Avoid lines similar to “it was for the best.” It’s not for you to judge whether a death is “for the best.” Instead, think about how you’d feel if someone said this to you if you were mourning someone. 

Avoid advising your friend on how to grieve. Everyone grieves differently. Some may feel comfortable returning to work soon after the death of a loved one. Others may wish to grieve in solitude, while others feel comforted surrounded by family and friends. Grief counselors sometimes advise people to not make any significant decisions until at least a year has passed; however, it’s probably not your place to offer this advice.

Avoid making statements about the afterlife unless you’re sure about the beliefs of those involved. Unless you’re sure you share the same views with all of those involved, you might want to avoid writing phrases such as “at least they’re in a better place.” 

Avoid comparing your grief with theirs. This may be difficult for you to hear, but avoid comparing your grief with someone in mourning. Like the person in mourning, you may have lost your mother recently. Your heart may break for them because you know firsthand that the death of a mother is devastating. However, even though your intentions are good, avoid writing a line in your letter that starts, “I know how you feel . . .” 

Avoid commenting on their reaction to the death. It may seem as if your friend or family member is “doing fine” following the death of their loved one. However, please understand that even though a person may be able to remain dry-eyed through a funeral service, this isn’t always a reflection of how they’re doing. 

We know that reading guides such as these may make you even more worried about interacting with those in mourning. You may be anxious about the interaction because you’re afraid you’ll say something that would be offensive. So what do you write in a sympathy letter? Instead of the phrases we listed, offer sympathy to your friend, a sincere offer of help, and (if possible) share a memory of the deceased.

Steps for Writing a Sympathy Letter to a Loved One Who Lost Their Mom

There are no hard and fast rules for writing a sympathy letter. But since this is not something that you write every day, we would like to walk you through the process. 

Keep in mind that the loss of a mother or father is particularly difficult for many people. It brings with it a wide variety of complicated emotions that may include anger, fear, jealousy, and deep grief. It doesn’t matter if the death came after a long illness or if it was unexpected. Losing a mom is hard, no matter the situation. 

Step 1: Consider writing a hand-written note

We know that you may be cringing at the idea of writing a hand-written note, but it shows that you made an extra effort to show support to your friend. 

When someone gives a hand-written note, they also had to go to the trouble of finding stationery, an envelope, the address, and a stamp. Handwritten letters also offer a personal touch that emails and texts don’t have. Finally, people keep handwritten notes. Few people go through the effort to print out email messages to tuck away in a special place.

If you are concerned about writing a note without the benefit of grammar and spell check, first write the message on your computer. Then copy the text from the computer to the stationery or card. 

Step 2: Write the note immediately

Don’t wait around to send a condolence letter to your friend. This gives the impression that you care about them, but you don’t care enough to drop what you are doing to write them a note. 

Of course, this may not be helped if you find out about the death long after the event. In that case, explain this in the first part of your letter. Write, “I am so sorry that I didn’t write sooner, but I just came across your mom’s obituary. Please accept my sincerest sympathies. She was a great lady.”

Step 3: Offer your sympathy

Most people begin a condolence letter by offering sympathy. Consider writing, “I was sorry to hear about . . .” or “Please accept my sincerest sympathy . . .” You may even include the ubiquitous phrase, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Step 4: Get the relationship right

Sometimes people are tasked with writing a sympathy note to someone they don’t know well, like an employee or a friend they don’t see very often. If this is the case, make sure you understand the precise relationship between the person in mourning and the person who died. 

Don’t write, “I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s death,” if the person who passed away was actually a mother-in-law or step-mother. Doing so makes it seem as if you don’t care enough to get the details right.

Step 5: Share a memory of the deceased

One of the greatest gifts that you can give to someone who lost a family member is to share a happy, positive, funny memory of the person or offer a sincere compliment about them. If you had the opportunity to meet the deceased, try to share a specific memory. 

Even if you never had the opportunity to meet the deceased, you may remember an anecdote about her. You could use the story in the sympathy note if appropriate.

Step 6: Keep it brief

Don’t feel as if you need to make philosophical comments about life and death in your letter. The best letters are heartfelt and straightforward. If you want to make your message a little more thoughtful, you may include a quote about death.

Step 7: Keep your friend’s spiritual beliefs in mind when writing the letter

If you know that your friend has different spiritual beliefs than you, you may want to refrain from discussing those beliefs in the letter. Instead, focus on including appropriate words of sympathy for the loss of a mother

Step 8: Be mindful of what you write

The goal of your message is to let the reader know that you are thinking of them. This is not the time to offer advice, compare their sympathy with yours, or tell your friend that they will “get over” their grief. Don’t ruin a thoughtful letter by including insensitive comments or phrases. 

Step 9: Offer help

If you are close friends with the individual, you may suggest “getting together” for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in a few weeks. When you see them for the first time after the death of a loved one, don’t ignore the situation.

Give your friend a chance to talk about their loss, but try not to push the conversation in that direction if you can see your friend is uncomfortable.

Example Sympathy Letters for the Loss of a Mother

Sometimes it’s easier to write something after looking at an example. Here are some snippets of condolence letters to consider before writing your own.

To a friend

Dear Becky,

I was sorry to hear about your mom. I’m sure you are devastated right now, and I wish there were something I could do to take some of your pain away.

I have many fond memories of your mom. I used to love going to your house after school because your mom always had the best treats. Do you remember how she would serve us Kool-Aid in real china cups? I still think of your mom every time I taste a vanilla wafer. 

Again, I am so sorry, my friend. Your mom was a remarkable woman. It was a pleasure to have known her. 

To a family member

Dear Julie,

I was so sad to hear about Aunt Jane. She was a wonderful, classy woman, and I always looked up to her. I always envied her high heels and power business suits. She was the first professional woman I knew, and she inspired me to make goals and aim high.

I’m so sorry that I cannot attend the funeral. It is on the same day as my daughter’s high school graduation; otherwise, I would be there. Please send my love to the rest of the family.

I would like to come for a visit the week following the funeral. I have a lot of memories to share about Aunt Jane, and I would love to see you. Can we get together for lunch?

To coworker or acquaintance

Dear Michael,

I was sorry to hear about the recent loss of your mother. Losing a family member is difficult, and I wanted to let you know that we are all thinking of you at work.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting your mom, I always enjoyed your stories about growing up on the farm in Nebraska. Your family sounds like an exceptional group of people. You are lucky to have such a loving group surround you during this difficult time. 

Please take as long as you need before returning to the office. Family responsibilities always come first, and you need to take time to heel. I will check in with your clients, and keep things running smoothly during your absence. 

From a company or organization

Dear Mark and Susan,

On behalf of the entire management team of Wilson and Wilson, we would like to offer our sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. We were all deeply saddened to learn of Jane’s death and would like to express our sympathies to your entire family. 

Your mother was highly respected by managers, co-workers, and clients. She was regarded as a visionary leader by anyone who worked with her. Jane’s contributions to this company during her 24 years of dedicated and selfless service were many. She was a major part of our expansion across the state and was always the first person a new staff member would turn to for advice and questions. 

On a personal level, Jane was beloved by all of the members of the office. Countless people burdened her with their problems, and she always offered a shoulder to cry on and a non-judgemental ear. Everyone would also become excited when she delivered her boxes of homemade goodies to each staff member at Christmas.

Jane’s eyes would light up when she spoke of her two children. Her desk was covered with photographs of you as children — and later of her grandchildren. 

Again, please accept our heartfelt condolences at this difficult time. Jane was a remarkable woman. Knowing her personally, as I did for many years, I am well aware of the difference she made in many people’s lives, both here in the company and in her private life. She will be missed. 

With sincere sympathy,

Roger Wilson

To a teacher or professor

Dear Dr. Howard,

I wanted to reach out to you to offer my sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. 

First, thank you for sharing this personal news with us. We know that you didn’t need to offer a reason to us for your recent absences. However, we appreciate you sharing the cause of your extended leave.

Although I don’t know you personally, I wanted to let you know how much you are respected by your students and the rest of the faculty. The other professors who have been filling in for you have been doing so hesitantly. They know they have big shoes to fill, and they often apologize in advance for not being you.

It also isn’t surprising how much your colleagues enjoy being around you. They have told us stories about how you have helped them through their own difficult times. I hope they, in turn, can do this for you.

Although I am simply one of many students who feel honored to have been in your classes, I would like to humbly offer this poem that helped me when I lost my mother four years ago. 

It’s called “Blessing for the Brokenhearted” by Jan Richardson and begins: 

“Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.”

Thinking of you, 

Patricia Smalley

To a loved one who lost their mother-in-law

Dear Samantha,

Please accept my most heartfelt condolences on the loss of your mother-in-law Frida. I know her death was shocking to the entire family, and I’m sure you still feel stunned by the loss.

Frida sounds like an amazing woman. I appreciated reading her life story in the beautifully-written obituary. I didn’t know she served in Vietnam! I also was surprised to read about all her state records for swimming. 

But most importantly, I know how much Frida meant to you. She was more of a mother than a mother-in-law and a wonderful, caring grandmother to both Zach and Chelsea. 

I’ll never forget the story you shared about how she showed up after Zach’s birth. At that time, you weren’t really close to Frida, and you weren’t sure you wanted her in your home during such an intimate time. However, you said you were begging her not to go by the end of two weeks. You said she had a fantastic intuition for understanding when you needed to be alone with your baby and when you felt overwhelmed and needed her assistance. 

I was always jealous of how close you were with your mother-in-law, and I wanted to let you know that I have been thinking of you during these last couple of weeks as you have learned to live without yours. 

Please know that I am here for you and would be happy to talk with you any time, day or night.

Much love to you and the rest of the family,

Trisha 

To a loved one who lost their step-mother

Dear Bryan,

I was sorry to hear about the death of your step-mother. Please extend my sincerest sympathies to your entire family – especially your Dad and your kids. You know how much I look up to your Dad. He is an amazing man. 

I’m assuming you will have quite a few family members traveling in for the funeral, and I also expect they will be staying with you. For that reason, I’ll be dropping by on Monday evening with several egg casseroles, a tray of muffins, a few gallons of juice, and some coffee creamer. Don’t worry — I know cooking stresses you out, so I will leave clear instructions on how to cook the casseroles. 

I also plan to be at the funeral on Tuesday. Please let me know if you need help transporting the flowers or plants home from the services. Also, let me know if you want to escape from your family for a while to go out for coffee. 

I know you had a complicated relationship with Joan, just as I had with my own step-mother. However, I am glad that you mended your relationship within the last several years. I was happy to see the photos of you and Joan smiling together as you danced at your son’s wedding. You both looked great!

Please email back to let me know you received the message about Monday. I thought about calling, but I know you must be busy making arrangements. 

I’ll talk to you soon. 

Keith

Choose Love and Support

When writing a sympathy note, it is always best to think about what kind of message you would like to receive. Would you want the death of your mother to be compared with someone else’s loss? Would you want someone to imply that you must be “relieved” that your mom died after having such a long illness?

When someone is in a highly emotive state, it is important to be delicate when choosing your words. Always offer condolences, sympathy, love, and support. 

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