There are a few simple rules regarding the sending of sympathy cards that you should follow, in order to avoid a social faux pas or worse, hurting someone’s feelings.
Timing of Sympathy Cards
You should send a note of condolence as soon as possible after someone dies, or at least as soon as possible after you have received notification of it. Do not allow too much time to elapse or you will appear to be callous or insincere.
Where to Send a Sympathy Card
You should normally send a sympathy card to the person who is most closely related to the deceased. If uncertain, send it to the first person who is listed in the obituary, after the words “survived by.” If, however, you did not know the person who died, then simply send it to the family member or friend that you do know.
This is often the case when a friend or co-worker’s family member who you did not know or maybe only met once passes on. It’s best to send card to that friend or co-worker, since they are the one you are showing your concern for; not some stranger you have never met who won’t even recognize the name on the envelope.
Even though you will most likely want to send a pre-printed card that already has some sort of expression of condolences, it is customary to add a personal note inside. However, when signing the sympathy card, always use your full name, even though you may know the recipient very well. They may get so many cards that it can become confusing for them, especially in their time of grief.
Situations to Avoid
If the loss has left the family in a financial bind and you want to help out, that’s quite admirable. However, sending a check or any kind of money with a sympathy card is a big no-no. Quietly inquire as to whether a fund has been set up where you may make a donation. If one has not been set up yet and you are close to the family, you can be very helpful by assisting in setting it up for them.
If you had any sort of dispute or disagreement with the deceased, let bygones be bygones, and by all means, don’t bring it up in your sympathy note.
Avoid bringing up any details around the person’s death, like saying “I always knew that car would be the death of him” or “I can’t believe that driver didn’t even stop,” as this will only serve to open fresh wounds. Concentrate on the positive things about the person’s life and your good memories of them.
When picking out a condolence card, be aware of the family’s religious preferences and be respectful of them. Unless you share the same faith, avoid cards with strong religious overtones attributable to one faith or another.