How to Write to Someone Who Lost Their Spouse

by William McCoy

It's easy to discount the power of your words, but when someone you know has recently lost her spouse, reading a caring message from you can lighten her heart. Figure out the medium of your message, think of what to share and what to avoid, and whether to evoke religion to deliver a note that conveys what's in your heart.

Email Can Be OK

It's customary to personalize a sympathy card or put pen to paper and write a short note soon after hearing that someone has lost his spouse. Although an email isn't as personal, the Emily Post Institute says it's acceptable to send an email as a quick way of expressing your sympathy before you send a note in the mail. This process is especially suitable if you know the deceased's spouse checks his email regularly. It's also appropriate if you don't want to bother the person with a phone call. Once you write the email, however, follow up with a hand-written note or letter.

Condolences and Memories

The content of your message depends on your relationship with the deceased and her spouse. If you're not close, convey your condolences, say that you're thinking of the message recipient and her family, and offer any assistance she might need. For closer relationships, share a brief anecdote that recalls the person's life or shows a bond between you. For example, you could say, "I'll miss seeing John's smile every day at work," or, "I recently lost my spouse and I know how tough it is. Please reach out if I can help in any way."

Phrases to Avoid

Your sympathy note isn't a venue for being improperly upbeat -- telling the spouse that he'll "move on" soon isn't appropriate. Other inappropriate messages include going over the nature of the person's death or illness, sharing cliches that don't help the grieving person or making a promise you don't think you'll be able to deliver. Stay away from hollow sentiments, such as saying "God has a plan" or "Your spouse is in a better place."

Careful Around Religion

Buying a religious-themed card might offer solace to those who attend church, but can be inappropriate for those who aren't religious. You can send a religious card when you're certain of the recipient's faith -- for example, someone in your church or someone with whom you've discussed religion. When in doubt, select a card that does not offer a religious sentiment.

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About the Author

Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.