One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “How do I write a sympathy note?” Maybe the question you should be asking is: "Do I need to write a note of sympathy?"
For example, the father of a dear friend died. My friend was out of town when I heard the news and I reached her by phone. We talked for half an hour and she shared that after a long illness, she’d made peace with her dad’s death. I called again and we spoke after the funeral. I invited her and her husband for dinner the night they returned home and she accepted. After speaking with her at length and extending my sympathy over a home-cooked meal, it felt unnecessary to write a personal condolence note, and I didn’t.
A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a friend’s sister. I had an opportunity to express my condolences after the service. My friend hugged me tight and I knew that the physical support was a comfort. I attended a Shiva the following night; a Shiva is a Jewish ritual of mourning where family members and friends congregate to comfort the mourners. I then sent a donation in memory of my friend’s sister to the organization she’d designated. After all these expressions of sympathy I felt a sympathy note was not warranted.
I don’t suggest a blanket approach when it comes to sympathy. Each loss is unique and it's appropriate to make a personal decision on how best to support friends and loved ones. While I believe it’s always appropriate to write a note of sympathy, there are times when our actions are an expression of our condolences and writing a note isn’t necessary.