How to Offer Condolences for Someone You Don’t Know Well

Words of Condolence Letter for a Father

You can read the sampler letter below of a condolence letter for a friend who has just lost a father. While any loss is significant, there are few other losses as great as the loss of a parent. Writing a condolence letter is an important way for you to show your support to the family of the deceased. Once you have read the sample letter, you can review the following section-by-section guide. It will walk you through how to make your own personalized condolence letter with details about the specific person.

Other words of condolence resources you might find helpful:

I am truly saddened to hear of your recent loss and would like to express my sincere condolences to you and your family on the recent passing of your father. Elaine and the children also send their thoughts and hopes to you and your family at this most difficult of times.

Even though I did not know you father personally, through meeting you and your family, I can see that you were raised in a loving and warm family. Your personal demeanor and the values you have I know came from the family in which you were raised. I can only imagine how much of an impact your father has had on how compassionate and caring a person you are. From meeting you and your family and hearing the stories about your father I can only imagine how great a man he was and I wish I had the pleasure of knowing him in life. It is obvious that you were very fortunate to have such a fine man as your father and role model as you grew into the person you are today.

Please accept our heartfelt condolences at this most difficult time and I ask that you please pass these sentiments on to your family and your father’s friends. I wish I had the opportunity to have known your father as I can see how his personality and strength must have passed into you and in doing so he lives on in you and those who loved him.

Before You Begin-Rules of Etiquette to Consider

  • Try to keep your letter short but thoughtful.
  • Be sure to mention one of your favorite memories of the deceased if you have one.
  • Respect religious beliefs. Always remember that everyone deserves sympathy, regardless of their beliefs.
  • Sign with your complete name (first and surname). This is good etiquette and will prevent confusion regarding relatives or friends with the same first name as you.
  • Do not make offers of financial help.
  • Don’t mention money that the deceased may have owed to you or anyone else. Financial matters can be dealt with after the grieving period has passed.
  • Do offer practical help such as offering to provide meals or help out with household chores.

Letters of sympathy and condolences are very personal, so the language of your greeting should reflect that. When addressing your intended recipient, your greeting should always include the name of the person you are writing your letter to. The specific nature of your relationship with the bereaved will help you to determine the exact phrasing that should be used. Here are some sample suggestions for your greeting:

Times to Offer Condolences When You Don’t Know Them Well

There are a variety of experiences in life where you might need to offer condolences to someone when you don’t know their deceased loved one, or you knew the deceased but not any of their grieving family. These may include:

1. Explain how you knew the deceased.

Share with the grieving how you were connected with their lost loved one, and include as many details as you can. We live long, complex lives and it’s very possible that the grieving party may not even know about that part of their life.

Example: “I knew your dad when we were both teenagers playing on the West High baseball team. I really enjoyed spending that time with him and playing the game we both loved so much.”

2. Share a fond memory.

If you were a friend of the deceased, you can share a poignant memory you have of them. These moments can be especially treasured by the grieving family during this painful period. A memory condolence message can be particularly powerful if the grieving party didn’t know about the memory—it’s like an uncovered mystery and an extra piece of their loved one they’re getting back. Even from a distance, a condolence letter of memories will be priceless.

Example: “I don’t know you well, but I remember a camping trip I took with your mom’s family before you were born. We hiked and made s’mores and then she jumped out from behind a tree and made my brother spill his entire canteen. I’ll never forget how fun she was.”

3. Compliment what you knew.

Whether you knew the deceased well or not at all, a compliment about them will be comforting to their grief-stricken loved ones. If you knew the deceased, you can share the things you admired most about them. If you didn’t know the deceased, you can still offer caring thoughts by acknowledging what stands out to you in their obituary or what you’ve been told about them.

4. Share what you know about grief.

You never want to make this about yourself, but sharing a quote or experience about loss can actually be a thoughtful way to show your deepest sympathy for a loss, whether you know them well or not. If you’ve experienced a similar type of loss, you might consider leaving contact information and an offer to grab a coffee and discuss it when they’re ready.

Example: “We’ve only met a few times, but I wanted to let you know that I also lost a sibling far too young. Addiction is a terrible thing and it can be difficult to process. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here for you.”

5. State your confidence in them.

Whether it’s a close friend or a coworker you barely know, one way you can comfort someone experiencing a loss is to talk about what you see in them. You might point out times you’ve seen them overcome something challenging, or how you’ve noticed that they are thoughtful and compassionate with others. Tie this to their ability to feel deeply and emerge stronger.

Example: “I am so sorry for what you’re going through. In the time we’ve known each other, I’ve been so impressed with your grit and compassion. I know you’ll make it through this and come out even better on the other side. I’m here to support you however you need.”

6. Express your love for them.

If you didn’t know the deceased, you can simply focus your sympathy message on how much you love the grieving party. They need to feel support at this time, so sharing how much you love and respect them can be all they need. If you don’t know them, you can communicate love for their family or your support for all of the employees on your team.

Example: “We are so sorry for your loss. We think the world of you and our entire team is standing by with love and support. Take all the time you need and let us know how we can help you.”

7. Tell them you’re sorry.

A quick “sorry for your loss” is usually not enough for the grieving to feel supported or seen. But it doesn’t take much to beef up that short condolence message in a way that will strengthen them. Heartfelt sympathy isn’t hard to convey, even when all you say is “I am so sorry you’re going through this. I’m sure it hurts tremendously and I wish you didn’t have to feel this.” Even if you don’t know them well, you can express true sympathy for them in their difficult time.

8. Mention what you’ve noticed or heard about the deceased from them.

If a close coworker loses a parent, you might not know much about the deceased. But you can make note of what you learned from the bereaved person about the parent. You can bring up things you know were important to your coworker, or ways your coworker is living up to their parent’s dreams and expectations. It’s a sweet way to show that the deceased had an impact far greater than their immediate circle.