After the loss of a loved one, friends and relatives often offer sympathy cards to comfort the bereaved. While etiquette dictates sending thank you notes for significant gestures, such as sending flowers, bringing food to your home or participating in the funeral service itself, it is not necessary to send thank you notes for sympathy cards.
Formal Thank You Notes Not Required
Etiquette for Sympathy Card Thank You Notes
According to Funeralwise.com, a thank you note is not needed for everyone who sends a sympathy card. Thank you notes should be sent to anyone that offered something beyond a simple card, but they are not required in response to a sympathy card alone. While it is always appropriate to send a thank you note if you would like, in this situation it is not necessary - and grieving survivors certainly may not need the added pressure of writing and addressing thank you notes.
If you receive a sympathy card from someone who indicates no thank you is required, the sender is likely honoring the situation and making sure that you know that you are not expected to respond to the gesture. The fact that some people may make such a notation does not mean that you are required to send acknowledgements or expressions of gratitude to people who don't specify that a response isn't necessary. Even those who don't make a special notation will not likely expect to receive a thank you note after sending a sympathy card.
If You Decide to Send a Thank You Note
If you do decide to send thank you notes, they do not have to be written by the actual recipient of the sympathy card. It is acceptable for a relative or friend to assist with the notes if the recipient is unable due to grief or other end-of-life duties of the survivors.
According to Emily Post, typically, a thank you note should be handwritten and include a personal message. The note can be very simple such as "Thanks so much for your card in our time of grief. Regards, The Anderson Family."
There are only a few situations in which pre-printed cards with a signature are acceptable as thank you notes. Once such situation would be the death of a prominent person, following which, a great number of cards, gifts, and donations were received.
Appropriate Time Frame
According to Emily Post's Bereavement Questions and Answers, unlike with other thank you cards, there is not a specific recommended time frame for sending thank you notes for sympathy cards. Friends and loved ones will understand the difficulties associated with the loss. You will not offend anyone if there is a delay - particularly since no one is expecting to receive a formal 'thank you' in response to a sympathy card.
If the note is sent out several weeks after the funeral, it is appropriate to offer an explanation for the delay. Something simple such as, "I'm sorry for the delay, but wanted you to know how much I appreciate the sympathy card you sent for Bob's funeral service," will suffice.
The Choice Is Yours
While dealing with the loss of a loved one, certain rules of etiquette tend to become less important. The bereaved may choose to write thank you notes for sympathy cards they have received. For some, writing these notes can actually be cathartic and healing. Writing thank-you notes for sympathy cards, however is not a necessity. If writing thank-you notes during this time is too overwhelming, etiquette dictates it is perfectly acceptable not to send them.