Leonard M Zunin and Hilary Stanton Zunin, in their book The Art of Condolence identified the key components to a good condolence letter. We quote liberally from this classic, to help advisors know what to say when a client or client spouse passes away.
A good condolence letter or note is one that speaks from the heart. Use these guidelines as a starting point for writing your condolence note or letter. What's important is that you write what feels right as opposed to a script or a platitude.
Most grief experts agree that a good condolence or sympathy note contains at least some of the following elements:
l. Acknowledge the loss.
I was sorry to hear of your recent bereavement.
I was very upset to hear of your loss.
I wanted to write and tell you how sorry I am for your loss.
I was so sorry to hear about the tragic circumstances surrounding X's death.
I was terribly sorry to learn about the death of X.
I was saddened to hear of X's death.
It was with a great sense of loss that I learned of X's death.
I was so sad to hear of X's sudden death.
I am writing on behalf of our firm to express our sympathy at your sad loss.
2. Express your sympathy.
Please accept my sympathy for your sad loss.
I want to express my heartfelt sympathy.
X was such a special person that no words are adequate.
X was such a special person and it must be so difficult to come to terms with
the fact he/she died so suddenly.
May it comfort you to know that so many people care and are thinking of you and your family at this time.
May the love of family and friends comfort you.
There are no words to express our heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.
While there is nothing I can say that will ease your loss, I wanted you to know
that I am grieving and thinking of you all.
3. Note special qualities of the deceased or the bereaved.
What started many years ago as a business relationship grew into a friendship. It was a privilege to have known him/her.
She was a wonderful person and I won't forget her thoughtfulness and warmth.
I wish to express my sadness at John?s untimely death. I know your courage and family will help you through this difficult time, but if there is anything I can do to help, please call.
4. End the letter with a thoughtful word, an inspirational quote, a hope, a wish or expression of sympathy.
"You are in my thoughts and prayers."
Remember that "Those who live in the hearts of others never die."
Sample Client Sympathy Notes:
It is with great sadness that I learned of John?s death.
It was a privilege to have known him, and I appreciated our relationship very much, as a friend as well as a valued client.
I'd like to offer my sincere sympathy to you and your family. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know.
Please accept my sincere sympathy on the passing of X. Although he suffered for a long time, it is still a terrible loss for you, though in some respects a blessing.
I will hold you and your family in my thoughts and prayers as you move through the process of grieving and healing.
Just a quiet word to extend our deepest sympathy to your and your family, and to let you know we are thinking of you.
We were shocked to learn of your loss. John's passing will be grieved by all of us here at the firm. I considered him a personal friend and I will always remember him with great admiration.
With sincere sympathy,
We are very sorry to learn that you have experienced a death in your family. Although we do not know the details, we want you to know that we are thinking about you in your bereavement.
Please accept our condolences.
"The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in."
- Morrie Schwartz
"Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep -- he hath awakened from the dream of life." -Percy Pysshe Shelley
"On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world." - Henry David Thoreau
"Death, thou art infinite; it is life is little." - Philip James Bailey
"Death to a good man is but passing through a dark entry, out of one little dusky room of his Father's house into another that is fair and large, lightsome and glorious, and divinely entertaining." - Adam Clarke
"One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die."
- John Donne