A recent randomized trial of bereaved family members of patients who died in an intensive care unit identified symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress in recipients of semistructured condolence letters.


To explore family member and clinician experiences with receiving or sending handwritten sympathy cards upon the death of patients involved in a personalized end-of-life intervention, the 3 Wishes Project.


Interviews and focus groups were held with 171 family members and 222 clinicians at 4 centers to discuss their experiences with the 3 Wishes Project. Interview transcripts were searched to identify participants who discussed sympathy cards. Data related to sympathy cards were independently coded by 2 investigators through conventional content analysis.


Sympathy cards were discussed during 32 interviews (by 25 family members of 21 patients and by 11 clinicians) and 2 focus groups (8 other clinicians). Family members reported that personalized sympathy cards were a welcome surprise; they experienced them as a heartfelt act of compassion. Clinicians viewed cards as an opportunity to express shared humanity with families, reminding them that they and their loved one were not forgotten. Signing cards allowed clinicians to reminisce individually and collectively with colleagues. Family members and clinicians experienced sympathy cards as a meaningful continuation of care after a patient’s death.


Inviting clinicians who cared for deceased patients to offer personalized, handwritten condolences to bereaved family members may cultivate sincere and individualized expressions of sympathy that bereaved families appreciate after the death of patients involved in the 3 Wishes Project.

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