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Easy How To Tips for Expressing Condolences
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death, Funeral Expert Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death, Funeral Expert
Albuquerque, NM
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®

During this time of COVID-19 deaths, people are looking for ways to express their sympathy to those whose loved ones have died. You don't need to be an award-winning writer to create an appropriate sympathy card or note of condolence. It's not hard to add a few short sentences to customize a store-bought sympathy card to help lift the spirits of the mourners.

writing by handMake it easy on yourself by using journalism's "Five Ws" to guide your way: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Younger generations, those more comfortable with texting than actually writing, can especially benefit from these tips.

What: Describe your reaction when you heard the news about the death. "I was shocked/saddened/surprised to hear about…" If you didn't know the deceased, but know the mourner, you could write, "My thoughts are with you after I heard…" Don't be afraid to use the "D" word – died, death, or demise.

Who: Identify the person who has died by name, or by the relationship, such as "your Dad," "Grandma," or "your husband/wife." And don't be afraid to use that person's name in other communications with the mourners going forward. They may long to hear that person's name spoken.

When: Write a card as soon as you learn of the death. If it's been more than a week since the person died, you can say, "I only just heard the news today, or I would have contacted you sooner." Supportive sympathy notes in the months after a death can also help. If sending a condolence note to mark the anniversary of the death or another milestone event, "It's hard to believe it's been (a year/current time frame) since he/she died."

Where: A sentence or two about the impact the deceased made in your world. This impact can be related to work, a cause the person supported, family connections, as a long-time friend or neighbor. If you didn't know the deceased, focus your comments on the mourner and their role in your life. Sample "where" sentences can say things like:

  • (Name) was a legend at work. His fondness for a certain red stapler lives on.
  • I met (name) through our support of the local BioPark society. Specifically, we were both Zoo Parents of the capybara.
  • After living next door to (name) for 20 years, I couldn't ask for a better neighbor.

Why: What was it about the person who died that made them special? Why are you sending a condolence note to the recipient? You might consider using sentences such as:

  • We loved (name) and we'll miss (him/her) so much.
  • I always admired (his/her) (positive character attribute, such as sense of humor, generosity, knowledge).
  • (Name) was a good person and I'm so glad I had the chance to know (him/her).
  • In (name's) honor, we have made a contribution to (organization).
  • I treasure your friendship and wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you during this difficult time.

A line in support of the bereaved is also appropriate:

  • Please let me/us know if you need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen.
  • I'll be in touch in another week or so to see how you're doing.
  • May I take you to lunch next week?

It doesn't matter if you write a note of condolence on a sympathy card, on fancy stationery, or on simple notebook paper. Taking the time to write, address an envelope, and mail your communication speaks volumes. It may seem Old School, but it's these personal touches that really say you care.

If you're feeling eloquent, longer typewritten stories about the deceased and the family can become a treasured keepsake. Tales of family relationships, legendary events and ancestral history can help everyone feel more connected and supported.

And yes, you may send an email, but remember the family's routine has been shattered and they may not be online for a while to see and respond to your note. If you want to send a message via social media, unless the mourner has posted a public announcement for all to see, use private messaging functions.

Time Flies card coverYou can apply these guidelines to sympathy phone calls as well. The key is to connect with your fellow human beings who are hurting and let them know of your concern and care. Someday, your caring gestures will be returned in kind.

Need cards to send condolence or sympathy notes? Check out these "Time Flies" cards from A Good Goodbye! These elegant blank cards and envelopes are only $15 for a set of 12, plus shipping. Add to Cart


Gail Rubin, CT, is author and host of the award-winning book and television series, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips, and KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die.

Rubin is a Certified Thanatologist (that's a death educator) and a popular speaker who uses humor and films to get the end-of-life and funeral planning conversation started. She "knocked 'em dead" with her TEDx talk, A Good Goodbye. She provides continuing education credit classes for attorneys, doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice workers, financial planners, funeral directors and other professionals. She's a Certified Funeral Celebrant and funeral planning consultant who has been interviewed in national and local print, broadcast and online media.

Known as The Doyenne of Death®, she is the event coordinator of the Before I Die NM Festival. She also hosts A Good Goodbye Internet radio show and produces Mortality Minute radio and online video spots. Her YouTube Channel features more than 450 videos!

Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, Toastmasters International and the National Speakers Association New Mexico Chapter. Her speaking profile is available at eSpeakers.com.

Gail Rubin has been interviewed about funeral planning issues in national and local broadcast, print and online media. Outlets include The Huffington Post, Money Magazine, Kiplinger, CBS Radio News, WGN-TV,  and local affiliates for NPR, PBS, FOX, ABC-TV, CBS-TV and NBC-TV. Albuquerque Business First named her as one of their 2019 Women of Influence.

Sign up for a free planning form and occasional informative newsletter at her website, AGoodGoodbye.com.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Gail Rubin
Group: A Good Goodbye
Dateline: Albuquerque, NM United States
Direct Phone: 505-265-7215
Cell Phone: 505-363-7514
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