More than a million possible words, but which ones are right when writing a bereavement card?

How to write a good bereavement card can suddenly leave you wordless, wondering how to start.

Getting the words right can bring real comfort to those grieving, but picking words that create a meaningful and balanced card takes time, and consideration to recognise the person who has died.

It can be common to think you know how the person you are writing to feels, yet all bereavements are different.

Woman sat writing cards at a table

Royal Trinity Hospice Head of Patient and Family Support and trained counsellor Paul Sullivan has this advice for those looking to convey the right sentiments:

 What top tips are important to consider when writing a bereavement card?

  1. Take time to consider what you are going to write first, drafting onto a blank piece of paper. Allowing yourself time for reflection is important, so a break and re-reading the text to see how it sounds can help. Remember writing a card may trigger an unexpected emotional response from you too. You can come back to it when you are ready.
  2. Make it personal, name the person who has died and acknowledge the death. If appropriate, a sentence to acknowledge what the death might mean to the recipient can be included.
  3. Keep the focus on the recipient and avoid mentioning your own bereavement(s).
  4. Be wary of making assumptions which may not be in keeping with the belief systems of the recipients or the person who has died. Phrases like ‘in a better place’ or ‘no longer suffering,’ may not be relevant to those affected.
  5. Remind the person you are writing to of any support you can offer when they are ready.

Does the size of the card matter? Or is a written letter more appropriate?

Choose a card which is appropriate to how much you might like to write. It’s always best to fill the space you have so if you are writing just a couple of lines choose a smaller card.  A blank card inside or letter gives you greater freedom to write your own meaningful words. 

Share a memory you have of the person who has died, maybe something funny or moving that has significant meaning to them, stick to the correct past tense to acknowledge the loss. Using the name of the person who has died is important for recognising them and avoids creating the feeling of a ‘hush’ around their name.

What kind of picture or image should I go for?

Again this is personal choice, but images of flowers always work incredibly well, regardless of the gender of the bereaved. Images of nature, which feel open, lit and soothing such as wide spaces, or images taken in spring or summer times can work. I would suggest avoiding winter or bleak landscapes, although this also reflects the mood and moment related to the situation.

When should it be written or how late can you send it after the death?

There is no set time period, and it may depend on the circumstances, particularly if you want to notify someone that you are unable to attend a funeral for instance. Sometimes taking time to think and sending a card a little while later can be a welcome ‘later’ delivery to the grieving person, letting them know people are still thinking of the person who has died.

Sometimes the person who is grieving may not read the card immediately, as it can be too difficult emotionally to read right away, returning to them when they feel stronger. A reply is unlikely and would suggest not texting (for example) to ask if it arrived.

Should the card be posted or dropped off in person?

Again this will depend on the individual, commonly a bereavement card is posted, allowing the recipient time and space to open it. With digital messaging, a check in text will also go a long way to let someone know that you are thinking about them. Don’t worry also if you don’t get an immediate reply.


 Needing some support yourself following a recent bereavement? Visit our brand new bereavement support services page on our website to find a programme of events and activities to support those grieving.

Find out more about bereavement support available from Trinity