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Is it Appropriate to Send Condolences via Email?

Is it Appropriate to Send Condolences via Email?

Sending your condolences via email is actually not a good idea to do. Rather, it is the last option to do! However, there are circumstances when you need to e-condolence. SocialMettle tells you how to write online condolences, and its dos and don'ts with the help of a sample email.
Payal Kanjwani
Email is the most convenient gadget for communicating, but something as serious as someone's passing away though you didn't know them personally is best handled the old-fashioned, respectful way! Fetch their address, go to the gallery for a beautifully worded card, or handwrite a note, and send them.

Internet has become the medium for so many informal exchanges. Be it an engagement announcement or breakup updates, wishing someone on their birthdays and anniversaries, or sharing life updates after a decade of silence, networking sites have it all. Moving to the darker days, we have an addition to the list―sharing your personal sense of loss, giving condolences, or paying homage.

With so many forms of communication available, it can be challenging to figure out the most appropriate means of contacting someone who has just experienced a death.

The goal of contacting someone who is going through the loss is to let the person know you care about him/her, and that he/she has your support and sympathy.

The University of Illinois investigated how people use the Internet to grieve. Following a campus shooting, researchers noticed that students responsively went from changing their Facebook and Twitter display pictures to memorial ribbons, and joining groups in support of fellow students. We're social creatures, and our instinct is to reach out to other humans when we're distressed. But did students' swift reactions (read: digital way of knocking into their communities) actually help them to heal? Not exactly! According to the studies, the tweets and texts had no effect on their recovery from depression.

At some point or another, we all face the sad situation of a dear friend experiencing loss. And the netiquette moves are more sensitive, when we show our concern in pixels and pings!

Even though many people use email on a daily basis, there are still some situations where mailing is not appropriate, like in a sensitive situation of sending condolences. However, there are people who feel that email could be used under certain circumstances.

Can You Send Condolences by Email?
The answer is, "it depends" on your regular mode of communicate with that person, and the circumstances.

So when can you email your condolences?
  1. If you have a purely virtual relationship with the person, and are unable to find the other person's physical address to send them a formal card, then you can go ahead. Or if email is the way you often converse with that person, then e-condolence can be a way of sending sympathies.
  2. If the person experiencing the loss informed you by email (which is very unlikely), then it is perfectly acceptable to respond to the sender by email with your initial condolences, especially if you don't think you will interact with the sender till the snail mail does its work.

Note: Email can just be an initial response. It cannot replace a handwritten condolence note or letter. Sending e-condolences should not stop you from sending a proper sympathy letter later, or doing a follow-up phone call.

How to Send Condolences by Email
Writing an email condolence or sympathy note can be made easy if you divide it into four sections. Follow these simple rules of netiquette:

Name the deceased and acknowledge the loss. Acknowledgement of the person (preferably by name) who has passed away is also important.

Offer your sympathy or condolences. Offer help in the days and weeks to come. Don't forget to include your contact information especially if you've offered to help.

Tell a story: Narrate a short story, or share a memory if you have spent time together. If you haven't, or didn't know the deceased personally, make a sincere statement of sympathy.

End thoughtfully: The end should be thoughtful, such as my deep condolences, with deepest sympathy, or you're in my prayers, etc.

The technique of "NOTE" will help you in remembering the elements to be included in an emailed condolence note.

Questions to Ask Before Hitting that "Send"
There are a few questions you need to ask yourself when you are considering sending e-condolences:

1. When will you see the person next time?
2. Why are you sending this message?
3. Where might the person be when they receive the message?
4. Who else might receive the message?
5. What else could be done instead of emailing or texting the message?
6. How would you react if you received the message you are planning to send?

Perhaps the most important question is the last one. Before you hit "Send", take a moment, step back, read, and really review the message that has been written.

If the message that you are planning to send sounds comforting or helpful (if you offered help), send it.
If you think you would regret sending it later, or by any chance, find your mail disturbing, don't send it; review it, or better, consider sending your condolences by letter.

Expressing your condolences via email lets the recipient to take his time for giving a response. Though he may not check the mails immediately, he can reply when he finds it convenient.

Do ...
Consider the WWW an unnoticeable way to show your support. Unless you and the bereaved are extremely close, he/she probably doesn't want to cry into the phone right in that situation. First, email a note expressing your condolences. Then send a real-life card to reaffirm your love and support. And if you do get to see your friend in real life, give a comforting and empathetic hug. Hugs have an instant calming effect, they say.

DON'T ...
Expect to hear back from them. They are in a miserable situation, and expecting a response at such a time would be stupidity.

Sample Mail Condolence
On the death of a parent:

To (email-id of the recipient)
Subject: Condolence

Dear Martha,
Please accept my deep condolences on the untimely death of your father due to the accident. It is really shocking for me and my family. Through your stories, his loving nature, and his support for you, I feel as though I knew him. He was a fine man, and his absence will be felt by many people. I can understand what you're going through, but I can only ask you to keep patience and be the strength of your family to bear this irrecoverable loss. I would enjoy knowing more about your father and his life if you would like to share memories when we get together. In the meantime, I will be thinking and praying for you and your family.

With warm regards,