Condolence phrases are designed to convey sympathy for people who have recently lost friends or loved ones. Many people are aware that it is hard to write a letter of condolence without sounding slightly cliched, and as a general rule, the emotion behind the phrase is often more important than the wording. Just sending a formal card or letter of condolence is important, as it indicates that an individual is thinking of someone during a difficult time. Greeting people with a few words of condolence when you see them for the first time after a death is also greatly appreciated.
Stock phrases of condolence include things like “sorry for your loss,” “please accept my/our deepest sympathy,” “my/our thoughts are with you,” “[the deceased] will be missed,” “with caring thoughts,” “much love,” “our hearts go out to you,” “with warm sympathy,” and so forth. These phrases are neutral enough to be appropriate for almost anyone, regardless of religious beliefs, and in fact, many condolence cards come pre-printed with these very phrases. Purchasing a blank card and taking the time to hand write a brief note is generally considered more appropriate, however.
Individuals may also want to consider someone's religious beliefs when composing condolence phrases. For people who believe in a concept of heaven and hell, the speaker may want to reference the idea that he believes the deceased is in heaven or is looking down from heaven. Phrases such as “may God comfort you,” “may your soul find peace,” and other references to religious belief should be tailored to specific religions. Those who are sending condolences to someone who practices a religion they are not familiar with may want to ask a member of that religion about an appropriate statement to use, as some religions have traditional condolence phrases, and the recipient of the greeting may be touched by the thoughtfulness.
Some people use quotes when giving their condolences, choosing meaningful passages from poems or books they like, or using famous quotes that deal with death and mourning. “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,” “like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in times of sorrow,” and “may the blessings of love be upon you, may its peace abide with you, may its essence illuminate your heart, now and forever more” are some examples of quotes which can be used.
It is also appropriate to reference the condition of the deceased in condolence phrases, if the speaker is a close friend. Condolences given to survivors of someone who died from a lingering illness, for example, might include a note of appreciation that the pain and difficulty are over, as in “I was sorry to learn of your mother's death, but I am glad to hear that her suffering has come to an end.” Many people also appreciate an indication that others are happy to offer any assistance needed in the days and weeks to come.
Individuals who are really struggling to come up with condolence phrases that sound right should know that it is also perfectly reasonable to say “words alone cannot express my sympathy,” or “I cannot imagine the grief of losing your child/partner/etc.” Recipients of condolence greetings usually aren't looking for sparkling originality, just a sincere expression of emotion.