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Dear Annie: What should I write in a sympathy card?

writing a  sympathy card

Dear Annie: A neighbour of mine recently lost her son. I’m on friendly terms with her, but not what you’d call good friends.

What do I write in a card to express my condolences and genuinely offer my help? The written sentiments on shop-bought cards seem too formal or sentimental, but I’m stuck for what to say. – GH

Annie says: In times of grief, ordinary social guidelines can be forgotten. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re good friends – write from the heart.

You’re right to avoid the shop-bought pre-written cards as they can feel so cold for the recipient. So practise writing a card or letter a few times and try and let go of any pressure to get it right.

Tell your neighbour how you feel about the news, how terribly sad it is, how you’re thinking of her every day, and that you can’t imagine what it must be like for her. If you have children, perhaps you can imagine – and so speak from that place.

If you have any memories of her son, share them with her. Really allow yourself to speak from a true and loving place. Those letters are the ones that stand out. And do offer to help, but don’t ask her to let you know what she needs – make a specific offer; for example that you’ll bring round some food in a few days.

If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, you can write to her at

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book Speaking of Death (What the Bereaved Really Need), inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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