A mom, a grandma, an aunt. What do you call her in a sympathy note?
February 11, 2016 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Angelica Smith has passed away. Albert was her son. You were her niece. You want to write a note to the Smith Family, but what to call aunt Angelica in the letter? "I'm sorry for the loss of your mother/grandmother" doesn't quite convey the love you feel.

Do you address the condolence note to Albert, who you knew best, or to the entire family: Albert Smith, his wife, and children. The children were close with their grandmother. If you address only Albert, might the children feel left out, even if you are sure to tell Albert you are thinking of them? But, if you write to the entire family, how do you refer to the deceased?

None of these seem to fit:
1. "I was so sorry to hear of your mother/grandmother’s passing. She was a mentor to me."
2. "I was so sorry to hear of Angelica's passing. She was a mentor to me."
3. "I was so sorry to hear of aunt Angelica’s passing. She was a mentor to me."
(She was not their aunt.)
4. "I am so sorry for your loss. She was a mentor to me."
5. "I am so sorry for your loss. Aunt Angelica was a mentor to me."
(Similar problem as 3.)

And also, if you are writing the entire family , how do you begin the letter?
"Dear all," "Dear ones," "Dear Family," "Dear Cousins?"

And lastly, in the US, is it
“my Aunt Angelica” or “my aunt Angelica”
“your Mother” or “your mother”
“Dear Cousins” or “Dear cousins”
posted by a sock of sheep to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
On capitilization "Aunt Angelica" is the only version where something other than Angelica should be capitalized. Titles/forms of address are capitalized when followed by a name, but otherwise not (e.g. "the president" "President Obama.").

I would go with #3 and make it "Aunt Angelica" not "my Aunt Angelica" (which arguably should be "My aunt, Angelica" anyway). Then it's just you calling her what you call her. Maybe in the next sentence or paragraph you say "I wanted you to know how important your mother was in my life." if you want to acknowledge their relationship explicitly, also.

And I would go with "Dear Albert, Albert's Wife, AlbertsKid1, Albert'sKid2" etc. by name, instead of "Dear cousins," but that's a quibble.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:25 PM on February 11, 2016

I agree that you should call her Aunt Angelica or whatever you called her. I think it's ok either to address it to the whole family or to address it to Albert and ask him to convey your condolences to the whole family.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:30 PM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

#3. No, she isn't their aunt, but she is your aunt, and it's your note. It's actually kind of neat reading notes like this; when my grandmother died, it was more comforting seeing the cards that spoke of her connections to other people as a friend, aunt, etc., than an unneeded reminder that she was my grandmother.
posted by gatorae at 7:31 PM on February 11, 2016 [20 favorites]

First, I'm sorry for your loss, a sock of sheep.


"Dear Albert,

"I'm so sorry for your loss, which I feel keenly as well. Aunt Angelica was a mentor to me, and I know she was a great mother to you and a wonderful grandmother to Aidan and Alexis. Please make sure to give them a hug from me."

Everyone will know their own relationship to Angelica, no matter how you phrase it, and the chance that the children will feel slighted by you from your condolences is zero no matter what you say.
posted by ejs at 7:32 PM on February 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

In my opinion (which is semi-informed; technically they pay me to edit stuff), since it is a personal note between family, I'd go with what you call her, so, "Aunt Angelica". That's her name, to you (unless you called her just Angelica). Even though she wasn't their aunt, they know who you're talking about, and that's who she was to you.

As for capitalization, the guideline is if it's a proper noun (basically: there is only one of them) then capitalize it. So, "Aunt Angelica", and "Angelica was a wonderful aunt".

I'd also go with including everyone's name after "Dear" because it does make them feel included. But if it's a lot of names and you're hand writing it on a card, do what fits so you can get to the rest of your note. You can also be a little less formal and go with "To the whole Smith clan" or something similar. Be careful though because if you go too informal it can jump from personal and familial to inappropriate for the occasion.
posted by Mizu at 7:40 PM on February 11, 2016

You presumably are writing the note from your point of view. Use #3 or Aunt Angelica. They know to who you refer. It makes it more personal too in my opinion.

I too agree with Mizu in using all the names after the "Dear".
posted by AugustWest at 8:26 PM on February 11, 2016

You really can't go wrong when writing a loving condolence letter. Really! (The only possible exceptions being saying too many lewd details or sharing something mean or hateful, of course.) What matters is expressing how much she has meant to you and sharing any anecdotes that remind them of the person they love.

While you have plenty of time to write this letter (later is always better than never), I'd recommend you focus on simply finishing it soon rather than worrying about etiquette or wording. It's awesome you're writing this letter, and I am sure the recipients will really appreciate it no matter what!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:44 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

My father-in-law died suddenly on Monday night, so I am currently reading a lot of sympathy cards. People who aren't actual family members are going with "your father," or his first name, while working in an acknowledgment of our relationship to him. Family cards are all calling him "uncle" or "cousin," his first name, or "your dad."

We are a couple without kids. Everything is coming addressed to us jointly. I am finding it very consoling that people are understanding I was very close to my father-in-law, and my grief and sense of loss is profound.

Every letter or card is appreciated. Every single one. I don't think there's a wrong way to do this, just send the card.

I am sorry for your loss.
posted by skybluepink at 3:06 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

In general the best advice I've encountered for writing sympathy notes is to honestly write what you feel. (Or to write nothing if you know your honest feelings would not be well received.)

In this spirit I agree with those who say you should refer to the deceased as you would have when talking about them in life. Options 2 or 3 are fine.

I understand you may feel that referring to the person in question as your aunt may put your relationship to the deceased over the recipients' but I don't think that's the case. Your note conveys that this person meant something to you as well, and that you sympathize with the recipients' bereavement.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:07 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

"our beloved...Aunt Angelica"
posted by raisingsand at 8:45 AM on February 12, 2016

Talk about her and refer to her from your own perspective, as you are the one writing.
When my father-in -law passed away, his nieces talked and wrote about how much Uncle Howard had meant to them and shared their memories of Uncle Howard. This was completely natural and normal.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:10 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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