La Petite Mortisode No. 18 - Sympathy Notes

What’s the difference between sympathy and empathy? How do you write a sympathy note (better yet, what should you NOT write in a sympathy note)? I share the most popular article I ever wrote (from way back in April of 2012 all about sympathy notes) and if anything’s changed. As this episode is airing during the holiday season, I want to say: if you are grieving, struggling, mourning or otherwise, I encourage you to check in with what you need this holiday season to feel happy and full and to check in with what makes you feel sad and empty. You get to choose how you spend your time and I want to encourage you to take care of yourself.


¶ How To Write Sympathy Notes

By Cole Imperi, CT

originally published in April of 2012

Sympathy Notes really get a lot of scrutiny from the recipient. The words inside a sympathy note carry a lot of weight; it’s like they are magnified. These notes are sent when someone we know and care about has experienced pain. The pain of loss. Whether that is the loss of a parent, a pet or otherwise, loss is still loss. It is feeling empty when before you were whole.

What words are ever appropriate at a time like that, right? I don’t know about you, but every time I sit down to write one of these notes, I always think that there are really no words that exist that will actually bring comfort.

And then I remember, that statement is true. A sympathy note is not actually intended to make the situation better because it really can’t make the situation better. Instead, a sympathy note is a way to say ‘Hi, I’m here, and I’m thinking of you.’ It’s a reminder that the recipient has many people in his or her life to help fill in that empty spot.

There are lots of things you can say in a sympathy note, most of which are probably fine. However, there are a few things you should avoid saying in a sympathy note and I’ll tell you why.

Just Call

“If there’s anything I can do, let me know” or “If there’s anything I can do, just call”

Those are both very nice sentiments and anyone who says them means well. However, what you are really saying is: “I’ll help, but you have to call me first.” When someone is grieving, the last thing they need is another ball in their court, so to speak. And honestly, they’re not going to call. It’s better to say something like “I’m going to call you next week to check on you” or “I’m going to email you next week to check in with you, in case you need anything.”

When I discovered this tip, I was a little shocked. I said this all the time to people. I’d even post it on Facebook. And I was not the only one. Someone might post that they were sick, and there’d be eight Facebook comments of people saying “If you need something, just call!” It’s just another way of not really saying anything at all.

A Better Place

“They’re better off now,” or “They’re happy now,” or even “They’re in a better place.”

Even if the person you are writing to has said one of the above statements to you, it’s still best not to say it yourself. Honestly, maybe they’re not better off. Perhaps things happened you’re not aware of. The issue with this statement is that it’s not really a comfort to the person that was left behind. The person who died is still dead. They’re still dead whether they’re better off or not. And, the person receiving your sympathy note is probably not better off, definitely not happy now, and likely not in a better place. How can a dead person be better off than the living person you are writing to?

“I Understand”

Be careful when you say you understand or you know how the person feels (particularly when you’ve never been through the same situation). Let me give you an example. When a friend loses a parent, I will usually include a statement like this:

“While I can’t understand what it’s like to lose a parent, I can understand what it’s like to be loved by a parent. I know how much your father loved you. I remember in high school how he’d pick us up after track practice and he’d always kiss you on your cheek, give you a hug, and ask you how your day was when we’d get in the car. I vividly remember how much love your Dad had for you.”

Everything I said was completely and totally true. I didn’t say I knew or I understood when I really don’t know and I really don’t understand. Plus, I was positive. I wasn’t talking about death, I was talking about life.  Be considerate of this when you sit down to write a sympathy note.

Take the Time

Most anything written in a sympathy note has good intentions behind it. However, if you are going to take the time to write one, really pay attention to what you are saying versus what you are meaning. They can be different. If you want to actually do something for the bereaved, say what it is and commit to it. Don’t put anything back on the bereaved. Don’t comment on where the deceased has gone or how the deceased may be doing. Focus on the person you are writing to, the person who is still alive and dealing with the aftermath.

Death is a funny thing. It happens to all of us, and will happen to everyone we know. Yet, many of us struggle with how to act or what to say when it happens. If you stay positive and commit to doing something for the bereaved you’ll stand a better chance of sending a note that is meaningful, memorable and a true comfort.


¶ Thank You For Your Reviews!

Insightful Information on dealing with life

★★★★★in Apple Podcasts by Ford Prefect42 from Canada on April 12, 2018

Candid. Informational. Entertaining. Insightful. Enlightening. Uplifting. Relevant. Highly Recommended. I've been listening since the launch of the podcast. While the tarot readings are not for me, I have found that there are many things discussed during each reading that I have interest in, or resonate with my past and present. They are very 'real', and Cole always shares her personal experience/s even (especially) when it is not always comfortable to do so. But, it is the La Petite Mortisodes I have come to really look forward to. They are a toolkit for dealing with life. A guide to help you work on focus, and start to find your path when you are lost. I listened to Mortisode #2 on purpose 3 times the day it came out because there was so much packed into it. A reminder to take time and discover what is truly important to you. (Why are you not already subscribed?)


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