Yesterday, I wrote a condolence card to a friend. No matter how many of them I write, each one challenges me with an inadequate feeling. What can I say to offer comfort at such a time of grief?
Yet words of sympathy are necessary to write especially now- when so many are dying unexpectedly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the cumulative losses are unimaginable. We, for our own safety, can not hug each other or visit as we’d like. Funerals are nonexistent or drastically modified. Presently, too much of life is not normal.
So, with the post office still functioning, write we must to offer support and console our grieving loved ones.
These cards do matter. They reach out to remind those suffering losses that they are not alone, that someone is thinking of them, wishing them well.
There are guidelines. Here are a few to help with expressions of sorrow… just some do’s and don’t’s.
Please avoid saying- “He’s better off now” or “You’ll get over it.” Grief is a necessary emotion that accompanies loss. Everyone grieves differently. Allow your words to give the person permission to feel whatever they need to feel. A life has ended and a large hole is left behind. Grief is not something you get over. It is something you learn to live with it.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” is a classic phrase. It works. (See more suggested phrases below.)
For a personal touch, find a way to honor the deceased’s life. If you knew them, recall a memory- an interaction, a funny story. “Your Mom had a hilarious sense of humor. I remember once when she did…” or “Your Dad taught me how to play baseball in Little League. He was a great coach.” Add these kinds of sentiments to the printed words if you use a commercial card. Make your note personal. ALWAYS handwrite it. Speak from the heart.
And if you say, “Call me, if you need anything,” remember grief is isolating, chances are they won’t call. See if you can find a way to help out without imposing. If you can, donate somehow. Offer to cut their lawn, run an errand, or donate to one of their favorite charities or causes.
When my sister died last year, I donated to The Sea Turtle Conservancy. She loved turtles. This charity tracks and monitors turtles. I asked if they would name a turtle for “Andy.” They did!
What’s the difference between Condolences vs. Sympathy notes? Let me clarify this fine point. Condolences are letters of sympathy for the death of a loved one. Sympathy notes can be written to express sadness for some calamity another is experiencing. It could be anything- the loss of a job, a promotion that never happened, a divorce, an accident, a climate disaster…even dealing with this pandemic, all those things that leave one “wounded but still standing.”
With today’s current events, both condolences and sympathy notes are essential for our national healing. One hundred thousand people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S. alone, and forty million people have lost their jobs in just the last few months. It’s mind boggling.
To visualize what a mass of 100,000 people would look like, I searched for the largest capacity in a football arena. Most hold about 60,000 people. The AT&T Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium has 100,000 as maximum capacity. Imagine every seat filled-a full house of football fans- vanishing!
And, consider the fact that one out of every four Americans is now unemployed. Certainly, we can reach out to someone with a few comforting words on paper, or find a way to donate to a supportive charity without embarrassing anyone.
I’ve been donating money to the local food bank, and charities that serve the underprivileged, in addition to writing sympathy cards to friends.
Do what you can. It makes a difference. Thanks.
Some handy phrases:
Please accept our deepest sympathy and heartfelt thoughts.
Words are so inadequate at a time like this.
There is so little one can say, but my heart goes out to you.
Caring thoughts are with you.
May God be with you at this time.
My heart is reaching out to you in sympathy and prayer.
May the love of family and friends bring you peace and comfort.
Wishing you God’s peace.
May you find consolation in knowing that others care.
Hoping these words of sympathy will comfort you in your time of sorrow.
J. Beverly Daniel. Finding the Right Words. New York: Pocket Books, 2003.
Robert W. Bly.Webster’s New World- Letter Writing Handbook.Indianapolis, Indiana:Wiley Publishing, 2004.
Margaret Shepherd. The Art of the Personal Letter. New York: Broadway Books, 2008.