When a friend or loved one is grieving, it is difficult to figure out the best way to offer support and condolences. The topic itself can be difficult to broach—often people worry that bringing it up will remind the bereaved of their loss and be too upsetting. However, while people vary in their level of comfort discussing feelings, grief is not easily forgotten. A sincere sympathy message is rarely unwelcome, so it is important to figure out the best way to communicate your message.
How to Write a Sympathy Message for Loss
Sympathy letters or cards are a traditional way to offer condolences. Sending a bereavement card allows the expression of sympathy while maintaining sensitivity. Sayings that comfort some people can offend others; depending on their beliefs, people will react differently to aphorisms like “they’re in a better place.” People grieve very differently, and it is hard to anticipate if somebody is more inclined to effusive nostalgia or dark humor, if they need a shoulder to cry on or a chance to act like nothing has changed. When conversation is difficult, sympathy notes let the grieving know they are supported and cared for, while allowing them the space to respond however they are comfortable.
When composing a letter of sympathy, everyday language sometimes fails faced with such difficult topics. Poetry provides a way to say more about grief and sympathy. Poems offer comfort, and articulate feelings that are difficult to confront. From the pre-printed sentiments in sympathy greeting cards to the ballads sung when oral tradition was the only way to preserve stories, there is a long tradition of people addressing loss through the elegant medium of poetry. Anybody writing a sympathy note can pick from a vast array of poems on death and grief, finding one that perfectly fits the situation and the sentiment.
Choosing Sympathy Verses or Poems
There are many options available for those trying to find a sympathy poem—and lots of places to look. The Internet offers near-overwhelming variety, displaying scores of amateur self-published pieces alongside classic literature. In libraries and bookstores, the assortment is pre-selected in funeral verse volumes, but that makes it no less vast. A good way to narrow down the options is to decide what kind of poem is most appropriate for dealing with death. There are as many poems on the fleetingness of life--a famous example is Robert Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’--as there are on life enduring beyond death such as John Donne’s classic ‘Death Be Not Proud’. Poems about the difficult and angry side of grief may comfort some with their reliability—especially well-known is W.H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues'. Another notable example is ‘Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard’ by the recent U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. Also very popular are the comforting poems printed on memorial cards distributed at some funerals, or enclosed in sympathy thank you notes, including Mary Frye’s ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ and Christina Rossetti’s ‘Remember Me.’ Also consider the value of including a poem that reminds you of the deceased for a less obvious reason, or to try your hand at composing your own poem if you feel inspired.
Despite the challenge of finding the words to write a sympathy letter, it is always worthwhile. It provides important emotional support. When you are not sure how to show your support, poetry can show it for you.