If there's ever a time in your life when you need the comfort and support of others, it's when somebody dies. Your condolence card won't make the hurt go away for the grieving person but it might make him feel a bit better.
Sending a Sympathy Card
There is no official timeline that tells you when you should send someone condolences. Rather, as soon as you hear that someone has died, you should send a sympathy card. You can mail a handwritten card on your own stationery or you can send a store-bought card. With the latter option be sure to add more than just your signature, though. Include something like, “I was devastated to learn of Joe's death, and I hope your fond memories of him will help you get through this tough time.”
You may send one sympathy card for an entire family or, if adult children are living elsewhere, send a sympathy card to each person in the family that lives at a separate address. So if the father of your best friend from high school dies, you should send a card to your friend's mother, and, if your friend lives in her own home, send one to her as well.
If life gets in the way and you can't send a sympathy card immediately, don't assume you shouldn't send one at all. Often there is a great outpouring of sympathy wishes right after someone dies. But that show of support dwindles over time, and the people who lost a friend, family member, or other loved one may feel more alone in the world. A belated condolence card may be just what they need to know that, yes, people are still thinking of them.
If the person who has died was Roman Catholic, you may give the family great comfort in sending a Mass card, along with your handwritten sympathy card. You can purchase a Mass card from your local Roman Catholic rectory for a nominal fee, and in exchange the church will say a Mass in the near future for the deceased.
What if I can't find an appropriate faith-based card at my local store?
If you can't find something appropriate, you can always call your local church, synagogue, or mosque to see if they stock faith-based sympathy cards, and then make your purchase accordingly.
You can also send a religious-themed, store-bought card, if you feel that this will be well received by the grieving parties. Most well stocked card stores have sympathy cards for all denominations.
Sometimes the best way to show you're thinking about a person dealing with the death of a loved one is to make a donation to that person's favorite charity. The family of people who have had extended illnesses often request that in lieu of flowers you send a donation to a designated charity, such as one related to the illness that the person suffered from.
When you chose to honor the person this way, be sure to send a handwritten card letting the family know of your gesture. You can write something like, “In order to remember Joe, we've made a donation in his name to the American Cancer Society.”