There are many difficult situations in life where we want to express our care but struggle to know what we should write. We can especially be at a loss for situations that are chronic.
“Get well soon” doesn’t necessarily apply if someone has been diagnosed with a condition that will be a part of their life permanently. Recovery from accidents or treatments for cancer can be long-term endeavors.
When your loved ones struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or addiction the need for support is ongoing. Similarly, there are life circumstances that can be painful and difficult for long stretches of time. Difficulties in relationships, parenting struggles, aging parents, divorce, job loss, and infertility are all examples of situations where you will need to offer support and encouragement more than once.
Let me help you write an encouragement card or letter
Read on for a step-by-step guide on what to write when your loved one faces chronic or long-term difficulties. I’ve also included sample phrases to help you write your note of encouragement with confidence. Additionally, we’ll cover what not to write as well so you can avoid common missteps.
Related: You may also wish to download my free Guide to Writing Sympathy Cards: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say.
How to write a note of encouragement and support in the face of long-term situations
1. Begin with a greeting
All notes generally start with a greeting such as “Hi” or “Hello” or “Dear” and then follow with their name. Or begin even more simply with the person’s name alone followed by a comma.
2. Open with a statement of sympathy
You will want to acknowledge the current situation and the pain they are feeling.
I am sorry to hear…
I heard about…
I am so sorry you are dealing with…
3. Mention you have been thinking of them
If you are confident you share similar religious beliefs you can reference that:
I have been praying for you…
I have been praying for healing…
I have been praying you experience God’s peace in the midst of…
Or you can be more general:
I have been thinking about you…
You’ve been on my mind…
My heart aches to know you’re hurting…
4. Optional: Offer specific help (and follow up)
If you are in a position to offer tangible assistance do so. This is going to be based on your relationship with the person and what they will be comfortable receiving, your geographic location, and your own personal bandwidth. The situations we’re discussing here tend to be longer-term so keep that in mind before making your offer.
How to help someone having a hard time:
• Help them with their daily and weekly routines: walk their dog, pick up their child from school, bring a child to practice or lessons
• Provide a meal (fresh at the time the person usually eats or frozen meals for later)
• Text them when you are going to a store and offer to pick up whatever they need
• Assist with lawncare or plant care
• Drop off library books and/or pick up holds from the library
• Stop by and do some light house cleaning or laundry
Do not ask the person what they need. Most people will not feel comfortable asking. People might not be thinking clearly if they are going through a difficult time.
Make an offer that is clearly defined and detailed:
I am available at 2:00 on Tuesdays. Can I stop by and help you with laundry?
I will be going to the store on Saturday. What can I pick up for you?
I want to bring you dinner on Tuesday. What time does your family usually eat?
Can I bring… home from soccer practice for you?
5. Finish with words of kindness
You might encourage people to take good care of themselves:
Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time.
Be gentle to yourself.
You can also express your love and affection:
I love having you in your life.
I am so glad we’re friends.
I am honored to know you.
6. Close in a way that reflects your relationship
If it suits your relationship you may choose to simply sign off with the word “love” followed by your name. Be more creative if it feels right. If you and the person you are writing to always part with the same phrase, use it here.
What not to write or say to someone going through a hard time
When it comes time to write a note of encouragement or support in the face of difficulties it is equally important to know what not to write. None of us wish to be insensitive or unkind but often do so when we are unsure of what to say.
Avoid explaining why something is happening
None of us know why bad things happen. Trying to explain why this situation occurred does nothing to lessen the pain. Your loved one doesn’t need explanations. They need your comforting presence and care.
Avoid trying to find purpose or meaning in what is happening
A person who is suffering might eventually find deep meaning and purpose arises from their difficulties. However, that is a very personal spiritual journey. An outsider cannot assign meaning for the one who is suffering.
Examples of this (avoid):
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Now you’ll learn…
Think of all the good that will come…
You’ll be able to help others…
Avoid saying “it could be worse”
When a situation feels bad, there is no comfort to be found in a friend announcing that it could be worse. Your role as a loved one is not to force optimism or cheer but to just be there and present through the difficulties
Examples of this (avoid):
At least… (anything that comes after these words is generally not helpful)
Avoid giving advice or trying to solve the situation
The only time it is appropriate for you to offer advice is if two conditions are met. First, you are a professional with relevant expertise and experience. Second, the person asks for your professional opinion. If either of those are missing, keep your mouth shut (or put down the pen in this case).
Examples of this (avoid):
Why don’t you just…?
My friend tried (remedy/procedure/therapy/vitamin)…
Just stop worrying…
Avoid saying you understand
Listen, if you’ve had a similar difficulty you might actually have some insight or understanding. We do have to be careful about bringing our own experiences into the situation. Don’t assume the person is reacting the same way you did. They might have a very different experience or view.
That said, you can reference your own experience carefully:
I know I am not you but when I experienced (something similar)… I found…to be helpful.
When… happened to me, I felt… Maybe you’re experiencing something similar?
Reaching out is always the right decision
Don’t let this list of warnings stop you from reaching out with a note, a quick text, or a meal. People need friends and loved ones who can care for them through the entirety of a difficult situation, even if it lasts months, years, or a lifetime.
Just knowing someone is thinking of you is important. No one wants to be alone in their suffering. Saying something (even if it is not quite right) is always better than saying nothing.
Consider reaching out on regular basis
There is often an outpouring of love at the beginning of a difficult situation but then everyone else goes back to “normal” while the hurting person is still suffering. The kindest thing would be to commit to reaching out on a regular basis. You might put it on your schedule to reach out every week or every two weeks. Or you might do so whenever the person comes to mind. Either way, feel free to reach out more than once.
Short notes are also welcome
If writing frequently feels overwhelming, consider short and sweet notes to let the person know you are still thinking about them. Short notes of encouragement can be just as powerful.
Short phrases you might write:
Thinking about you today!
Just wanted you to know I love you and am thinking about you.
Need more ideas on what to write in a short note?
I offer a free download with 40 Affirmations to Write on Postcards. These short and supportive phrases can stand alone. Or they might just get you started with writing a longer note.
Bonus idea: Organize a group of folks to send weekly notes of support
If you run in the same social circle as your friend or if you have a group of people in common (church members, coworkers, club members, etc.) then you can rally the group to provide weekly notes of love and encouragement.
Think carefully about how much to share
If everyone in the group does not already know about the situation, consider carefully what the person would be comfortable sharing. Always err on the side of privacy. You could always say something generic like “Alice could use a little extra love and support right now” without going into any details. Alternatively, if the situation is widely known then the approach can be different: “We’re going to send weekly cards to Frank for the duration of his cancer treatments.”
Consider who to invite
This will vary by the situation and the relationships. If you don’t have all the email addresses you need, you may consider asking people you have in common. Or reach out over social media to build a more robust email list.
Utilize an online sign-up platform
The best way for this project to run itself with little oversight from you is to utilize a free sign up website like SignUpGenius.com. Folks signing up can choose a date that works for them. This way you can make sure your loved one doesn’t get 3 notes in 1 week followed by nothing for the rest of the month. The sites usually send automatic reminders too which is very helpful.
Create a sustainable schedule
I generally suggest once per week as a schedule that works fairly easily. If the schedule is large enough (or your pool of writers small enough) you might ask folks to sign up to write twice instead of just once. You might also consider if there are certain special dates to align with (like a treatment schedule).
Offer suggestions of what to write
A few prompts can help people who might feel hesitant to write. You might includes some in your email invitation along with a link to the sign up page.
Suggestions for encouraging or uplifting mail:
- Share a favorite memory
- Share what you love about the person
- Share what the person has taught you
- Share a favorite (and appropriate) Bible verse or quote
Handwritten notes tell people they are loved and seen
There is never a wrong time to tell people that you care and you’re thinking about them. Consider this your invitation to pick up a pen today and send some love through the mail. I promise you won’t regret it.
Need some encouraging cards to send?
I have a few I'd especially recommend:
- Comfort Card Variety Pack (12 different designs)
- Hope notecard set (3 each of 4 designs)
- Exodus 14:14 "be still" (2 each of 6 colors)
- John 1:5 "the light shines in the darkness (2 each of 6 colors)
- Wildflower sympathy and encouragement cards (4 each of 3 designs)
- Tears sympathy cards (3 each of 4 designs)
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