During difficult times, it can be tough to find the right words to say.
Deciding what to write in a sympathy card leaves many of us with writer’s block: staring at a blank card, worried that we’ll say the wrong thing.
Native Poppy’s florists write thousands of handwritten notes for our customers each year – sometimes these notes are sending comfort to those mourning a heartbreaking loss. Our florists have seen it all, and can speak from experience: there’s no “perfect” message to write in a sympathy card. If you’re feeling anxious about expressing your condolences, try to remember that it’s the act of reaching out that matters most. No message, no matter how thoughtful, can heal the pain — but the gesture of sending a card or flowers can help support someone who is grieving.
What to write in a sympathy card after a loss
After writing dozens of sympathy cards on clients’ behalf, lead florist Hanna Tithin started noticing a pattern in the messages. “I see a lot of these type of notes whenever I’m writing for sympathy occasions: ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or, ‘Please know you have a group of people who are here for you,’ or, “_____ was so loved by many,” she shared. “The main points would be to reassure the recipient that they have people who are there for them for whatever they need, and sympathizing with them for their loss."
Your sympathy message does not need to be long. Our florists agree that a short, sincere note is often the best approach. The most meaningful message is one that comes from the heart.
Meg Blancato, Vice President and part-owner of Native Poppy notes that often our customers are sending their condolences from far away. Sometimes we can’t stand by our loved one’s side, but we want to show them we’re thinking of them, and perhaps send sympathy flowers to brighten their spirits.
“I like the the idea of saying something along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry I can’t be there to hug you, these flowers are my stand in,’” said Meg. This gives them a tangible reminder of the support and love that surrounds them.
Sympathy cards are also a comforting gesture after the loss of a beloved pet. Our pets hold such an important place in our lives and our hearts. “We receive many sympathy flower orders for pets,” said Native Poppy florist Barbara Cravioto. “Some of the messages say the name of the pet and how special they were,” she said. If you’re not sure what to write in a sympathy card for a pet, a safe bet would be, “Losing a loyal companion and friend is never easy. You’re in my thoughts during this difficult time.”
Sharing a memory
The bestselling sympathy cards in our Celebration of Life menu usually have similar messages on the outside, like, “Thinking of you,” or, “Our deepest sympathy.” If you knew the person who passed away, consider personalizing the message in your sympathy card with a memory of them, or share the impact they had on your life or their community.
“Sharing a nice memory helps to keep that loved one in their thoughts, and focused on all the happy moments before their passing,” says Hanna. It doesn’t need to be a long story; even a small detail that you remember can be meaningful.
“I remember when my dad passed away, someone told me that the greatest thing someone could say about my dad was something new - a memory or funny story about him I didn’t know,” said Meg. “Once someone’s gone you don’t get any more ‘new’ with them.” For Meg, this idea really resonated. “To this day, if someone shares something with me I’ve never heard about my dad, it feels like such a gift,” she said.
What NOT to write in a sympathy card
While it might feel natural to want to relate to a loved one who is grieving, it’s best not to say, “I know how you feel,” as everyone experiences loss in their own way.
“When I typically send condolences, I try to stay away from comparing experiences and just acknowledge the hardship/struggle,” said Native Poppy’s Warehouse Lead Erich Schmitt. “'My heart is with you. . .’ is a phrase I often use,” he said.
Other phrases to avoid would include platitudes like, "They're in a better place,” or, “Things happen for a reason.” While these messages come from a place of compassion, they don't always resonate. Especially after the loss of a loved one, death can feel senseless, and the bereaved may wonder what that “reason” could possibly be.
When to send a sympathy card
There’s no time limit for grief, and it can be helpful to check on someone who is grieving a loss, to remind them they are not alone.
“Don’t be afraid to send something later, or on an anniversary, too,” says Natalie Gill, founder of Native Poppy. Even long afterwards, it can be comforting to know that you have not forgotten the person they’ve lost, and to share fond memories. “It’s not weird to bring it up, because that person is still thinking about their loss.”
“I second that,” says Meg. “I send my best friend flowers every year on the anniversary of her mom’s passing.” It’s thoughtful to send a sympathy card as soon as you hear the sad news, but sending reminders of your support is powerful, too.
When it comes to what to write in a sympathy card, it really is the gesture that matters most. “It really isn’t what you say — people won’t necessarily remember that — it’s just showing up. Sending flowers or just a card is a powerful way to show that you are there,” said Natalie.