Tag Archives: condolence card

G & T’s, Pretzels and Paper Goods

In my 20’s I worked for Northwest Airlines as a Video and Film Producer and traveled quite a bit. It was a fabulous job. And even when I flew to destinations as exotic as Detroit to interview and tape an Executive, I always loved to fly. Even then, with no obligations back at home, the uninterrupted time in the air forced me to pause, make lists, read and write to my heart’s content. In this day and age, these moments with no connection to the internet, texts, email and social media can feel like a small gift.

So when I found myself headed to and from Portland, Oregon this past weekend, I was elated. The sweet, young woman, Tasya, sitting next to me, holding her one novel, was a bit thrown when I pulled out my half-dozen magazines, journals, and paper goods which might last me through a flight to Asia and back. Oh yes, I was prepared for my unplugged flying time, watch out! And if Tasya didn’t think I was crazy at first, my handy waxed canvas clutch from Spring Finn and Co. (a.k.a. mommy’s letter carrier) full with load of stationery and postcards, stamps, pens, and more, she did now.

Mail carrier

Here’s my deal. I am completely dedicated (and adore!) writing letters and in order to keep this love manageable, it’s necessary to keep a selection of cards, a few dozen stamps, pens and my address book on hand and, ultimately, in one location. It’s actually quite simple. My letter carrier holds a variety of stationery including birthdays, celebrations, condolences, thank you’s and blank cards for all occasions.


 Merci Beaucoup for Thank You’s


YAY for Congratulations or Birthdays


Spring Onion for Everyday, Thank You’s or Happy Spring!


Lilac and Magnolia for Condolence or an apology

I make time for my letter writing, but, (without sounding too Type A!) it only works if I am prepared with the needed goods. It makes flying a whole lot enjoyable…add in ear plugs, a gin & tonic, and pretzels to the experience, and I’m ready for the friendly skies.

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

We live in a world where communication occurs mostly through text, email and other forms of social media. However, when it comes to a condolence letter, a handwritten card is the only route to take. Coming from someone who enjoys writing, I find this particular card difficult, at times gut-wrenching and simply unnatural. I mean, where do I begin to summarize one’s life, how deep does one go, what words do I select, how can I be formal yet emotional in one card? This one is a toughie.

In The Lost Art of the Condolence Letter, Saul Austerlitz shares his recent process of writing this personal letter and the difficulty in finding the words. “Writing was not a matter of taking a prefabricated thought and setting it down on paper, but using the art of setting words on paper to determine just what that thought might be. That system, which generally served me well in my professional life, had never felt so threadbare, so woefully insufficient to the task at hand as facing the prospect of paying condolence. How do you summarize a life? A friendship? What words can do justice to the entirety of a person?”

Deviant Art: pencil on page<br /><br /><br />
CC: Mark Downing Photography

He believes the act of writing a condolence letter forces you to take the time to select your thoughts and to share your compassion and stories. It took him three hours to write each one of his recent condolences letters and, after each letter, he felt better…”Not because by setting down words on paper, I had preserved something ephemeral, endangered. Emotions were pinned to the page like rare butterflies, no longer falling around indiscriminately, glimpsed only as they fluttered off, but preserved for future study.”  This thought hit me the most. It’s not necessarily how perfectly you phrase your sentences, but by communicating through a letter what this mutual friend meant in your life, you two mourners are benefitting.

Margaret Shepard, the author of The Art of the Handwritten Note, believes you should write a condolence letter even if you see this person often, the letter recognizes the importance of the event. She also feels it’s important to “be real” by using the name of the person and to not be afraid to use the word ‘death’.  Shepard lists a few ‘Don’t Say’ phrases such as “I know how you feel” or “I don’t know what to say” and “You must be devastated” but I believe you cannot go wrong when the words are coming from your heart.

If you’d like to share memories this is your opportunity. But if you decide to keep it short, be yourself. In the end, the recipient will be more pleased to have received your thoughts than to find nothing at all in the mail. And you will feel better for it.  As Austerlitz believes, “I write because I desperately need to communicate, and because I know that ultimately, I cannot. I write to remember, and to be remembered. The one desire emerges from the other.”

A Wonderful Life

Birthday cards, no problem. New baby, easy peasy. But when it comes to writing a condolence card the words can have a difficult time flowing from my mind to the page. I’m guessing I’m not alone on this one. Writing a card for a friend on the passing of a loved one can be a challenge whether you’ve known the deceased or never met in person. This being the case, I strongly feel out of all the card writing occasions in the world, this one is the most important and most appreciated.

I recently read an article by Laura Fraser in October’s Whole Living magazine, regarding her process of grieving the old fashioned way. Laura had unexpectedly lost her mother to cancer and what she observed as she mourned was interesting. It was her father and her sister, 7 years older, who received well over a hundred handwritten cards while Laura only a handful of letters. In her generation the way of communication had changed. Most of the condolences she received were sent on Facebook or an email. She stated “Much as I appreciated them, those quick one-liners via e-mail had nowhere near the impact of the words of friends who took the time to find a card, sit down, and recollect my mother’s laugh, or how she never let us take ourselves seriously as kids, or how much she loved to sit on a rock with a wide view of the mountains. Those cards, I’ve kept and will cherish.” She has a point. How often do we print out a Facebook or email which has meaning? For some, never.

Laura also mentioned how much she appreciated people asking “What kind of person was your mom? Are you like your mom? Did she have a sense of humor?.” Why not ask these kind of questions in a letter knowing you can discuss the answers at a later time. Laura felt the phrase “she lived a good long life” dismissed her pain. I’m guilty of glorifying a full life in a condolence card but I understand the writer’s view. It’s personal but it also can be a fine line.

Margaret Shepherd, writer of The Art of the Handwritten Note, suggests which basic phrases to use to anchor a condolence note:

Do Say: I’m so sorry. We’re going to miss him. I have so many wonderful memories of her. I hope you’re doing ok; I will write again after the memorial service. I’m thinking of the nice time we had together last summer. He had a wonderful life. I remember… I knew her through (connection). The (detail) of the service was so comforting. He would have loved..

Don’t Say: I didn’t know him well. You must be devastated. It’s better this way. Life must go on. What can I do to help? I know how you feel. I’m so sad, I’m so upset.

Whatever guideline you follow, it’s the act of writing which holds a level of respect. It gives meaning to this persons’s life. And it’s never too late to write a note. After the beginning stages of grief have passed and acceptance settles in, a written sentiment could help a friend through a tough day. As hard as they are to write, its value is immeasurable.