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.