Writer Gail Rubin is a wonderful resource to me for her kindness and keen sense of caring during a difficult time in someone’s life, the death of a loved one. Recently, she provided some good advice on how to offer your condolences that I would like to share with you.
You don’t need to be an award-winning writer to create an appropriate sympathy card or note. It’s not hard to add a few short sentences to customize a store-bought sympathy card to help lift the spirits of the mourner.
Make it easy on yourself by using journalism’s “Five-Ws” to guide your way: Who, What, When, Where and Why.
Who: Identify the person who has died by name, or by the relationship, such as your dad, or grandma. And don’t be afraid to use the person’s name. They may long to hear the person’s name spoken. My father, Ron Sinclair passed away over nine years ago and I love to hear people reminisce about him.
What: Describe your reaction when you heard the news about the death, “I was saddened to hear about your loss”, or “My thoughts are with you after I heard the sad news.” Don’t be afraid to use the words died, death or demise.
When: Write a card as soon as you hear of the death. However, a friend once told me it’s never too late to offer your sympathies.
Where: Add a sentence or two about the impact the deceased had in your world, such as, “Your mother was a long time co-worker of mine”, or “We were neighbors for years.”
Why: What was it about the person who died that made them special? Why are you sending a condolence note to the recipient? You might consider using sentences, such as, “I loved your father and I will miss him so much”, or “John was a good person and I am glad I had the chance to know him.”
A line in support of the bereaved is also appropriate, such as, “I will be in touch next week to see how you are doing.”
If you are feeling eloquent, longer typewritten stories about the deceased and the family can become a treasured keepsake. Tales of family relationships, legendary events and ancestral history can help everyone feel more connected and supported.
Yes, you can send an email, but remember the family’s routine has been shattered and they may not be online for a while to see and respond to your note. If you want to send a message via social media, unless the mourner has posted a public announcement for all to see, use the private messaging functions.
You can apply these guidelines to sympathy phone calls as well. The key is to connect with your fellow human beings who are hurting and let them know of your concern and care.