It’s always hard to know what to write in a sympathy card. It can become even more challenging when you don’t know the person you’re sending condolences to very well. When you do know this person well, you have a lot more to draw on.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Write in a Sympathy Card for a Stranger
- What to Write in a Sympathy Card for a Distant Acquaintance
If you have a more casual relationship with this person, it’s difficult to come up with something to say beyond the standard “sorry for your loss.” You don’t have to rely on cliches, though. You can still craft a thoughtful condolence message to an acquaintance or even a stranger.
Read on for some inspiration on what to write in a sympathy card for someone you don’t know well.
What to Write in a Sympathy Card for a Stranger
You may wonder why you’d even send a condolence card to a complete stranger? A likely reason is that you’re reaching out to the family of someone you knew in an environment where you might not have ever encountered their family.
This may include sending a condolence card, a vase of fresh-cut flowers, or a sympathy gift basket to the spouse of a deceased coworker. One great way to connect with this stranger is to recall times the deceased spoke highly of them.
Here are some specific message ideas for what to write in a sympathy card for someone you don't know well:
1. “I knew your dad since high school and we kept in touch over the years. I never got to meet you, but I feel as though I know you just from how much he talked about you. He was so proud of you.”
Parents have lived long lives before they bring children into the world. As a result, they may have longtime friends that their kids have never met.
Even if you don’t know the children of an old friend, odds are you’ve heard all about them. If that’s the case, be sure to mention something specific, like that their parent was proud of them.
2. “While I only worked with your husband for the past six months, he really took me under his wing. He taught me so much in our short time as coworkers. I really valued his advice and input. He will be missed.”
Many coworkers have a superficial relationship. But if you were close to a coworker, it means a lot to reach out to that coworker’s family. If he spoke about his family often, that’s a great detail to include in your note.
3. “Your wife was an exemplary employee. It wasn’t just thought her work was so brilliant, although it certainly was. She was also an integral part of the team. There wasn’t a person in the office who didn’t respect her and care for her deeply. We’re all so grateful to have known her and so grateful to you all for sharing her with us.”
If you had a really special employee pass away, reach out to her family even if you didn’t know her well. This could include a spouse and kids or parents.
Hearing positive reflections from a deceased loved one’s boss can bring a great deal of solace to people in mourning.
4. “Rebecca was an incredibly gifted student. She had such an inquisitive mind and was an engaged thinker. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a mentee challenge or inspire me the way that she has. She will be sorely missed.”
If you’re a professor or an advisor, you can form incredible connections with your students. If one of them passes away at a young age, their parents aren’t just mourning their loss.
They’re likely also mourning all the potential they never had a chance to fulfill. Talking up their accomplishments can provide comfort to their parents and family members.
What to Write in a Sympathy Card for a Distant Acquaintance
Even if you don’t know someone well, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to send condolences.
This might include reaching out to a distant family member you haven’t seen in some time. Here are some messages you may write to someone you don’t know well:
5. “I know we haven’t seen each other in a long time, but I was so sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing. I have such fond memories of playing in the pool when we were kids while our grandmas drank iced tea and worked on their tans. Verna was such a fun lady with such great style.”
When you’re a kid, you often end up hanging out with other kids just because your parents or grandparents get along.
Over the years, you may fall out of touch. If you want to send condolences to a long-lost childhood friend, recollect happy times you spent together along with the deceased.
6. “I haven’t seen you since the family reunion 20 years ago. But I remember having such a nice time sitting with your mom and working on the family quilt. She was so patient about teaching me. I always think of her and how kind she was to help me discover my love of crafting.”
Some of your family members are from another generation or live far away. So may have very few encounters with them outside of childhood. If a distant relative passes away, you can still send condolences to their spouse.
Just include a specific memory or recollection of this distant relation to make your sympathy message feel more personal.
7. “I know I didn’t know Bob well outside of serving him at work. But everyone in the whole restaurant always looked forward to you two coming in for brunch. We don’t see a lot of couples who have been together for 60 years. It touched all of our hearts to see how deeply the two of you love each other. We were heartbroken to learn of his passing. When you’re ready to come back in, we have some cherry pie on the house with your name on it.”
When you have a regular at your store or restaurant, they can mean a lot to you even if you don’t know them outside of your interactions there.
If she used to come in with her spouse, sending her a condolence card can be a sweet gesture. Be sure to reference a favorite dish or product for a personal touch.
8. “I noticed you weren’t in class last week, and the professor mentioned that your dad had passed away. I know we don’t know each other well, but I also lost my father when I was in my teens. It’s so difficult to lose a parent at a young age. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m happy to go grab a coffee with you and provide a listening ear.”
If you aren’t a stranger to grief, you can reach out to a classmate or acquaintance to send your sympathy. Obviously, everyone experiences loss differently so you can’t directly compare what you went through to their tragedy. They may be relieved to find a peer who can empathize with them.
Sending Condolences to a Stranger or an Acquaintance
Sympathy card etiquette can always be difficult to master. It becomes even more complicated when you don’t know the recipient of your condolences very well.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is focus on what you have in common with the person. You are connected by the way you both cared about the deceased. Referencing what made that person special is a great way to establish a connection with your card recipient. That will ensure that your message is personal and unique.
Feel like a sympathy message isn't quite enough? Read our guide on sympathy care package ideas to send to your loved one.