French sympathy card/etiquette question

(Not homework help, I swear!)

I have some very old friends in a Paris suburb (he was an exchange student at my high school in 1985 or so, and I’ve known his wife since right before they got married in 1994). Sadly, on Sunday she sent me a text message that his father had died, and the funeral is today.

I bought a sympathy card, and I’d like to get the darn thing in the mail already, but my French, while pretty functional for reading and understanding and general getting-around, isn’t the greatest for formal situations like this. Should I just write a card in English (his English is pretty minimal, but hers is pretty decent)? Or would someone be kind enough to toss me a few typical phrases for a situation like this? They are rather informal people, and I’m sure they will cut me some slack on the language mistakes, but I’d like to do the right thing. (And I feel horrible - his parents have always been so nice to me, letting me stay at their place when I have visited, once for 2 weeks. I will miss his dad a lot, and I’m trying not to cry as I type this.) I wanted to send an e-mail, but the only e-mail account I have for him is a work address; it’s a family-owned business that his parents built from nothing, and that all the kids work for, so I sure as hell hope they are taking some time out right now.

Toss me a bone, would you? What are the formula phrases for a situation like this? I can wing it for the personal stuff.

Write it in English, if it’s the only language in which you can adequately express yourself. His wife will translate for him. The last thing you want is to send “formula phrases.”

Well, I was thinking of “formula phrases” in conjunction with something more personal - I am OK in normal written communications.

This page might be useful to you.

“je vous présente toutes mes condoléances (or “mes plus sincères condoléances”) à la suite du décès de ________” would be a pretty standard phrase, followed by something along the lines of “sachez que je partage votre peine”.

I hate writing sympathy cards.

I’m sure with you on that - I hate writing them in my native language, much less in a language I don’t know very well. Blech. They always end up sounding so artificial.