Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Shakespeare Observes and Advises on Life and Loss

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William Shakespeare

English poet, playwright and actor, the "Bard of Avon" was by far one of the most astute observers of humanity. His works, though written six centuries ago (1589-1613) continue to be performed and studied around the world.

Observing Humanity

Daily life is full of surprises--the avenues to observation. The Condolence Coach believes that these moments expose us to great learning opportunities. Poignant, uncomfortable, sometimes tragic, observing humanity is an important tool to write a memorable condolence note.

Shakespeare's penned style is known as poetic free verse; its rhythmic flow of iambic pentameter (ten syllables to a line) masterfully captured wit and wisdom, passion and pathos. Let's explore some Shakespearean verse...

On Compassion: The Tempest

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer.
(The Tempest. Act 1. Scene 2. Miranda speaking.)

Compassion is the ultimate wellspring for our notes. Yes, it requires you to leave the beach and go out to deeper waters. Read more about a compassionate response in  Compassion and Condolence: Finding the words to walk together

On Reserving Judgement:  Hamlet, King Lear

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
(Hamlet. Act 1. Scene 3. Polonius speaking.)
and
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest.
(King Lear. Act 1. Scene 4. Fool speaking.)

Everybody has opinions:  that is what greases the wheels of social media! But opinions and advice do not belong in a condolence note...or a conversation with a grieving person. Unfortunately, grieving people are regularly bombarded with these. You may think you are cleverly phrasing a judgement as "helpful" but I guarantee you:  it will likely hurt. Read more about this problem:
Unusual Comforts in Grief: keep your opinions to yourself  and  The Myths About Grief and Getting Over It

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On Sharing Good Memories: The Tempest, Hamlet

He that dies pays all debts.
(The Tempest. Act 3. Scene 2. Stephano speaking.)
and
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.
(Hamlet. Act 5. Scene 1. Hamlet speaking.)

Stephano's reference to "paying all debts" advises us to drop the grudges and let go of bad memories. All scores (debts) drop to zero. At best, realize that the end of life takes a person "out of the game" and it is unfair to keep hashing over and bashing on your complaint. Instead, this is the time to step into Hamlet's shoes and gaze at your good memories. Sit with a piece of paper and make note of stellar moments, admirable qualities--big and small, interactions that helped or inspired you. The results are wonderful elements for use in your condolence note.

Keeping It Kind:  Love's Labours Lost


Source
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register’d upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe’s keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.
(Love’s Labours Lost. Act 1. Scene 1. King Ferdinand speaking.)

While this goes hand in hand with the previous topic, I must highlight its importance:  condolence notes are acts of kindness. Period. Speak well of the dead. Speak well of those who helped their end of life journey. Speak well of those who survive. Read more about kindness in condolence:  No Addiction Required: 12 Step Wisdom for Condolence and The 5-Step Good Life: Making Condolence Notes a Habit

On Loss of a Relationship:  King John

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Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:
Then have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do...
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!
(King John, Act III Constance speaking)

This soliloquy by Constance evokes the terrible pain of losing a child. In fact, she tells us that her son, Arthur, had been her "widow-comfort"-- that after losing a husband, the relationship with her son had alleviated sorrow and loneliness. The Condolence Coach acknowledges that we are powerless to change the circumstances of a loss, but we can comfort with our gift of words:  the memories, the appreciation. We can comfort by listening over a cup of coffee, with an invitation to take a walk or a scenic drive. Constance speaks of losing her son, but the relationship could be spouse, parent, sibling, grandchild. Read more about loss of relationships:
SPOUSE: Joy's Warrior Dragon: Courage Befriends a Widow
GRANDCHILD: When Grandparents Grieve
CHILD:  Missing Children: Sharing Hope While Sharing a Nightmare
SIBLING: Missing In Action! A Soldier's Sister Keeps Vigil

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

BFFs Die, Too: bridging a best friend's death

What is a best friend?

 I found Chelsea Fagan's exploration of the "best friend" title thoughtful:
"We often take for granted how precious a thing it is to be a best friend, how many people can’t freely use that term, how many have never experienced that very particular kind of love. When you think about it, to pronounce someone in your life as being more important than all of those other friends somehow, as being on a different plane of relationship that, despite not being romantic, is still profoundly important, is incredible."
S
Jean with Sally, BFF & fellow Riveter

Jean: 94 years of friendships

This is Jean's story of outliving friends and 99% of her extended family (not including her children, grand and great-grandkids.) She describes an enduring belief  in the benefit of such closeness, even though she has had numerous losses.

"My cousins and I were really close. We did so much together, which continued even after we were all married. Those cousins and my aunts are all gone." 

Born and raised into her adulthood in the thriving Polish community of Hamtramck, Michigan, Jean worked as a Rosie-the-Riveter, and made friends easily. These were the golden years for BFF fun: Belle Isle picnics, the Put-in-Bay amusement park on Lake Erie in Ohio, league bowling with co-workers, nightclub evenings of dancing with soldiers and drinking “Zombies.” As a married mother of four, Jean continued to enjoy friendships with cousins, and many women from her neighborhood, church, volunteering, and bowling leagues.

Jean scratches a visitor's back
Now at 94, Jean lives in an upbeat assisted living facility. The staff and other residents are her new friends and neighbors. Before deciding on a small studio apartment, Jean visited Evelyn's brightly lit studio (across the hall from the vacancy,) saw the clever arrangement of furniture, and admired the hospitality potential of a new sleeper sofa. Jean and Evelyn became best friends.

Friendships in older life are fragile

"I sit at a dining table and have friends; they die and a new person is assigned. Sometimes if they're sick, you feel bad, cause you enjoyed things together, like playing cards or bingo. And then when they die, and a new person moves in, I might hesitate to get close. Evelyn was my last good friend at the table. I often think about friendships; Evelyn's daughter, Denise, is my best friend, now."
[Source]

Levels of loss

I asked Jean if losing an elderly friend is as hard as other losses (husband, cousin, grandchild)?
"When Evelyn died, I thought,'at least she's not suffering.' I'll think of our good times, and that way, they're never forgotten. I think the grief does depend on the closeness and at my age, I accept that I am going to lose people. I just wonder when it's going to be my turn." 


Darci: Wonderful memories

After courageously vigiling at her friend Patrice's deathbed, Darci found comfort in composition as well as acts of remembrance. An expressive writer, professionally and personally, Darci posted a tribute to Facebook on the eighth year of her friend's absence:

"Tonight my friend Beverly and I went out to celebrate the birthday of our friend Patrice, who passed away from complications due to glioblastoma in 2008. We shared lots of fun memories about her, and it was happy-sad, to say the least. So many wonderful memories came flooding back as we reminisced.
[Source]
 I remember long talks about everything and nothing; listening to her play the piano, and being swept away by the musical beauty she created. Working in her garden, drinking coffee, playing poker, walking her dogs, and going to Vegas. Laughing together at nothing. Sharing silence. How I miss that friendship, how I've never had anything quite like it since, and how her not being here anymore still pricks something so deep within. How is it that I STILL see someone who looks like her and I freeze for a split second and honestly think she's still alive? At some level I wonder if our minds are simply incapable of truly comprehending death. The pain has lessened over the years, yes. Yet the fond memories are as vivid as ever. How lucky I am that Patrice was my friend."

I asked Darci if the length and depth of friendship have a bearing on the pain of its loss.
"Absolutely. The closer I am to someone impacts the depth of grief I feel. Comparison: When my grandfather died at the age of 99 (four days shy of 100,) of course I was very sad. But his death was the natural end to a long life. I loved him, but I wasn't as emotionally close to him as I was to my friend Patrice, whose untimely death shook me to the core."

The Condolence Coach approached the topic of best friends, with a concern that the grief would be minimized as "outside" the roster of core relatives. Darci's experience was a good one:
"I have received many nice words in response to my writings about Patrice--which, for me, has been a way to process my grief".

Just getting started

Blogger, Chelsea Fagan, explored the distinction of "best" in a friendship. It is a coveted title, and not used lightly. A BFF is the receptacle for--and companion to-- life's moments and emotions, from incidental to earth shattering. As a child, I would run down the block to my best friend's house. Today, the smart phone redefines immediacy. Truncating the lifeline between best friends is a terrible amputation. I asked Darci, as you have grieved, have you had regrets?
"I wish we had had more time together--I think we were friend for only 2-3 years, but it felt like we had been friends forever."

When your bestie had died, who is left to listen?

Author photo

Ellie Crystal, counsels taking as much time as you need to heal, but if unremitting depression occurs, consider finding professional support. The space where that special person resided in your heart and mind, is fragile. "Best friends return to us in many spiritual ways, dreams, paranormal manifestations and movements, other reminders that allow us to know that they are still with us. Yet it is not the same. You want your best friend back so you can talk to them and share." 

The Texas Women's University Counseling Center suggests:
"One of the best ways to help yourself is to talk about your loss with someone who is caring and concerned, someone who can understand your need to talk about it. Often just talking with a close friend can soften the feelings...counteract some of the feelings of loneliness a death evokes. Typically, we need to go over and over the feelings and the experiences before we can begin to accept what has happened. Sometimes as survivors we feel as though we may be burdening our family and friends with our need to talk. If this feeling occurs, seeking help from a counselor is probably a good idea."

Bridging a crevasse with condolence 

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The friend "left behind" may be doing her own journaling, and many thoughts will be passed around through social media. Darci shares her tributes on Facebook. But the Coach encourages you to write a condolence note somewhere in the midst of electronic compassion. Just as a good friendship is enduring, your note can be, too. A condolence gift of a journal would be a lovely aid for this. Consider writing your condolence in the form of a dedication, on the first page:

"You have had one of life's best treasures: a best friend. Though [use name] has died, he/she lives on in your heart and mind." 

You may add one or two other observations or appreciative thoughts to that dedication; some ideas are:
  • Express Appreciation for the deceased and/or for the survivor
  • Share Memories
  • Make Little Observations...
    • a special moment or helpful influence
    • what you respect or admire
    • valued qualities or talents shared
  • If you have at one time, lost a best friend, you can share a thought about how you moved through your grief.
Thank you for caring!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Compassion and Condolence: Finding the Words to Walk Together

What is compassionate condolence?

It isn’t just about picking the right card… It is about stepping up as a messenger of support
when someone you know is facing one of life’s most uncomfortable occurrences-- DEATH--the loss of a loved one.

It is a time of great passion.

"Jin" Compassion [Source]
The Buddhist nun and poet, Otagaki Rengetsu wrote of of our challenge in facing the death of someone dear:

"It is hardest to be the one left behind.”


I addressed acts of compassion in this poem:

To Gentle The Cheerless Corners

It is a sharp edged world we live in,
As if splinters and slashes stalk us
Like self-willed entities.
They set snare for us:  mean-spirited,
And intent on little tortures.

Always a quick wounding;
Instantly known and cursed,
Lifted to the lips,
Simply salved yet revisited with surprise-
A searing moment when cleansed or flexed.
In time, a healed in flesh-
A faint pucker, pink halo.

To heal by the sword- cloaked and wary,
We remain blind and bleeding
From our own sharp edges.

To heal by grace-
Kind and caring,
We smooth the splintered plank,
Dull the point,
And gentle cheerless corners of
The sharp-edged world.

 Where do I begin?

Before you pick up a pen, you begin by connecting with feelings--the ones in your heart, not your head: good feelings...uncomfortable feelings…

I want to get into a heart-centric place because it is there that I won’t face internal censors and fears.
I will be honest and empathetic. Common fears about writing condolence are:


Put these fears aside aside; they are all surmountable. Follow the link of each fear, to the Coach's solution.

The heart-centric place

Author photo
The heart-centric place is like a slideshow:  of memories and moments for gratitude. Get inspired-- did you know the root of that word is to be IN SPIRIT?

Get out a pad of paper and pen and FOCUS a JOYFILLED and/or GRATEFUL SPOTLIGHT  on the deceased. You can also include thoughts about a caregiver or special person in their life. Just let it flow.

When you've filled up a page, you will have many thoughts to choose from in composing your compassionate condolence.

Thank you for caring!





Tuesday, July 7, 2015

No Addiction Required: 12-Step Wisdom for Condolence

Rev. Dr. Andrea Travers is a survivor; surrendered at birth to foster care, until a grandmother discovered and took responsibility for raising her. "As a loner, I turned to spirituality and a relationship with a higher power at a young age," she explains. And when her birth mother reclaimed her, Dr. Travers' life included the chaos of an alcoholic home life. But she views it all with compassion, recognizing that life experiences can forge strength and, in the company of good choices, wisdom.

Before I address condolence writing, let's follow the path Dr. Travers created, to illuminate an important point: We write condolence because we care. 

Compassion literally means 'to suffer together.'

The interactive website 12wisdomsteps.com supports the realization that 'we live in a world of common unity.'  In other words, we share basic needs, which appear around the pictured mandala. Those needs (called Unifying Principles,) serve to "re-label" the 12 Steps.

Unifying Principles of the 12 Steps of A.A. in the Wisdom Traditions. (Travers)
Follow the link of each principle to Dr. Travers' explanation and interpretation across the world's wisdom traditions:

  1. Honesty  
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Love
  9. Justice
  10. Perseverance
  11. Spirituality
  12. Service
Once you are grounded in the 12 Steps (or Travers' Unifying Principles) life--and how you live it, changes. It is like wearing a pair of glasses that filter out the low-energy reactions of anger, blame, doubt, deceit, fear, pessimism, and isolation. 

No addiction required

[Source]
The beauty of the Unifying Principles is that you don't need to be in recovery or attending 12-Step meetings, to enjoy them. What they will bring to your condolence writing is remarkable:  an inspired, non-judgmental encouragement to someone suffering in grief.


Unifying Principles in Condolence

  1. Honesty:  Admitting and accepting that we are powerless when a death occurs is an act of honesty. As mortals, death is inevitable, though sometimes circumstances are tragic and painful. Saying 'I'm so sorry" and '"I'm so sad" are a good start.
  2. Hope:  For many, early grief is excruciating and the horizon appears like a black wall. Never minimize someone's grief or apply a platitude about happy endings. But you can suggest "one day, you will breathe easier."
  3. Faith:  A common warning to people who lose a spouse is 'don't rush into big changes or serious decisions.' Unless competency is an issue, I believe a grieving person can connect with inner wisdom and make sound decisions. Be the voice that doesn't promulgate fear; support the widowed person's right to steer their own ship: '"I have always trusted you; it's time to trust yourself."  
  4. Courage:  It is easy to stand in the herd of funeral sympathizers, give yourself credit for showing up, and be done with the interruption. The Tao reminds us that the quality of our actions affect others. Choose the truly compassionate path: write a condolence note. Was there a song, a photo, a story shared in the eulogy that you can comment on?
  5. Integrity:  A condolence note is not about you; it is a gift of care and must never be hurtful, critical, or cruel. Before your pen touches paper, clear your mind of negative feelings--your issues--release them to your journal or a counselor. Now you are ready to compose a non-judgmental, comforting note: "The loss of [name] must be very hard. I know I didn't come by often, but I am deeply grateful for the many ways you made his life better..."
  6. Willingness: Consider spending some goodwill today. It is too easy to stay in your comfort zone, taking care of your own needs until there's nothing leftover. Pick up the phone and extend an invitation to lunch, transportation, help with chores. Do this cheerfully.
  7. Humility:  From time to time, I observe a situation that prompts me to whisper: 'there, but for the grace of God, go I.' I remember with awe countless mercies and acts of generosity that carried me across critical life turning points (Thank you, Dad...) This principle is a wonderful reminder to express appreciation for the life of the deceased AND those who loved and cared for them. Express this with a few detailed observations or memories. 
  8. Love:  Kindness. Kindness. Kindness. Just as no day should be without it, no condolence note should be sealed without your earnest wish for peace in the heart of the bereaved. One footnote here:  in my years of funeral service, I occasionally met survivors who could not afford their loved one's final arrangements, however simple. If you are able, consider a contribution toward expenses.
  9. Justice:  As a friend or acquaintance to someone who grieves, you are standing on a sidewalk, looking into a window. You may know some of the story or witnessed their tears (or lack of,) but you do not truly know what they are experiencing. Tread gently on that sidewalk; don't keep score--don't judge. Consider helpful, fuss-free gestures:  show up with a casserole or tray of cookies, shovel snow, plant a flat of flowers... 
  10. Perseverance:  In grief, there are good days and bad days which often occur unpredictably. One reason the Condolence Coach suggests not rushing a note is that the appearance of one--out of the blue, after funeral-driven attention wanes--is a boost and a balm. Yours can be the note which says: "I woke up to the rain and wondered how you are holding up? I remember the mountain of details when my mom died. Can I lend a hand? My cell is ###"
  11. Spirituality:  Praying for someone who is grieving, is a unique gift. In response to our powerlessness [see principle 1] it can be comforting to 'let go and let God.' I do not want readers to evangelize their belief system in condolence notes, but if you pray for the grieving, it is nice to let them know. "Do you know that feeling when the wind is at your back? Well, I want you to know that I am praying for you; hoping you know you're not alone. Take good care of yourself."
  12. Service:  When Jesus told his followers, "You are the light of the world," he expressed a truth about all people:  we are here to serve each other. Sometimes the work is fun, but sometimes we must take a deep breath and extend ourselves to others. This is compassion. It is your highest calling. The good news is that, with practice, condolence notes become easier to write. Keep reading this blog (if you are new to it, catch up on the 100+ archived posts) and you will discover your 'light'.
I want to express my appreciation to Rev. Dr. Travers for her outstanding work and wisdom-rich website!

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Words for when there are No Words: Peek In the Book

When I wrote and copyrighted my book in 1999, I wanted to share my beliefs about the value of written condolence. I had been writing notes for years and always received appreciative replies. My "mission and message" contained a set of tools I called:

 KEY COMFORTS

Formatted as a list of Keys for building a condolence note, I composed many sample condolence notes, and highlighted the use of Keys in each note. Readers may find those sample notes to be lengthy; In hindsight, I do too.  I have never dictated letter length: word count is a concept best left in the realm of college essays and magazine articles. To effectively use Key Comforts, you will learn that many are highly specific and easily misused. Only a few (two or three) should be chosen, and the content you compose will flow to a natural length. For example, the most-often-used Keys:
# 2  Sharing a well-known memory,
#3  Sharing a personal memory, and
#4  Sharing a humorous memory
invite story telling. What is your style?  A long and winding tale is very different from a snapshot! It is your choice:  be yourself and use your voice.  As promised, here is a peek in the book...

Preface


I was in a difficult relationship when Grandma died in 1981. She had telephoned me in Colorado, a couple months earlier, to say she and Grandpop were embarking on a big adventure to travel cross country and visit scattered grand kids. I squelched the inner desire to connect with my grandmother, who creatively nurtured me through childhood. But my outward reaction was one of panic. How could I have my beloved grandparents come to visit, when I was feeling a great deal of uncertainty about everything in my life?  Ultimately, I urged them to pass me by, citing high altitude health risks. It was a painful sacrifice.

While returning to their Florida home, after a visit with my parents in Michigan, Grandma died in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. My boyfriend took the telephone call, speaking quietly with my mother. Guilt and confusion muddied my deep grief. Unable to fly to Florida for Grandma’s burial, I sent flowers, only to later learn the wire service couldn’t get the timing of delivery right, and abandoned the order.
My first encounter with an unexpected death was cruel. I found solace by composing a simple note to my mother who surely needed comfort, too.  For, it was in her arms, on the cold floor of a women’s restroom, she had said goodbye to her mother.

Dear Mom,

You are not alone in coping with the baffling timing of Grandma’s death. [sharing the loss] Adult travels placed great length between my visits with Grandma and Grandpop. But Grandma followed me with letters of love and encouragement. I have no doubt she did the same for others. Her sweetly typed letters - and signature sign-off, “I’ll close now with all of our love and kisses to you,” were as pleasant for her as they were comforting to us.[sharing a well-known memory]

I was glad to hear of the pastor’s gentle question to Grandpop, “What has happened here?” One sensitive question allowed him to express his sorrow. I trust that his return to Florida will place him in the doting care of Al as well as his many friends at the Seniors’ Cultural Center.[sharing an observation of commiseration]

Mom, I feel helpless to offer you much consolation. But I want to thank you and Dad for regularly bringing Grandma and Grandpop into our lives. I will cherish those memories.[gratitude for the deceased’s life]

Chapter 1 The Written Word Still Weighs In

Responding to news of a death (human or beloved pet), loss of a job or relationship, or whatever you know was meaningful to another, is never easy. In our busy world, good intentions get shuffled. Tough tasks, particularly condolence writing, can get passed over. And if you find the prospect of cleaning out the garage more approachable, you are not alone. It is not a cold heart paralyzing your pen but a reverence for the impact of what has occurred. How can you possibly put your feelings into words? How can you find the right words when you feel awkward, or uncertain of circumstances?

Throughout these pages you will find suggestions on better ways and better words to let survivors know you care. The better words do not cajole survivors to forget or get-over, replace or find distractions, nor even counsel acceptance through a religious-based platitude. Though well-intentioned, these words are powerless. However, a key to comforting is a true admission of your powerlessness. In this way, your condolence will touch the grieving heart.

[Source]

Why do we write?

Readers may enjoy visiting some of my early thoughts about why a condolence note matters:

Beyond I'm Sorry

FAQs

Miss Manners Votes for Old Fashioned Condolence

Some Keys to Comfort Explained

Grief and Health: The healing powers of condolence

Thank you for caring!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Greatest Generation Dads: Remembering Their Legacies

[Source]
Legacies are often unwittingly fashioned through life choices and actions. Most families recognize the importance of preserving the stories of their heritage. Moment by moment, for generations, photographers were engaged, or personal-use cameras set up to record that piece of history. In my years of funeral service, visitations and memorial gatherings were enriched by the poster board collages on display. Their assembly was often a therapeutic task: browsing photo albums to select images which could tell the life story--one legacy moment at a time.

The exodus of a great generation

Men and women born in the first third of the 20th century did not spend much time contemplating their legacies. They worked hard--often with their hands and backs, and often under the duress of worldwide upheaval:  the Great Depression, World War II, Booms and Busts and yes, Bubbles. The goodbyes are coming fast: about 600 World War II veterans die each day. 
[Source]

As the Condolence Coach, I encourage everyone to observe, remember, and share. The result--when stories are retold, provides tremendous comfort and insight to persons who grieve. Father's Day nears, and I decided to gather legacy stories of "great generation" Dads. Listening for  legacies will be helpful when the time comes to write a condolence note.

Some legacies hold admiration for a character quality 

[Source]
“The memory of my dad’s love for my mother, is a legacy I cherish,” Lyn shared. Though that love was evidenced throughout her life, Lyn remembers her father, Ellis, during his home hospice care: “Even when he was sick and in bed, he wanted to be sitting up, out of the bed, ready to greet his wife when she came home.”  The memory is bittersweet for Lyn, long-divorced, but she believes in the ‘gold standard’ for all marriages.

“Daddy was a giving person,” Libby shared, and described how he was never too busy to be helpful, playful or community involved. “Chores were set aside to play a board game or croquet; to ferry me to piano lessons and recitals,” she continued. “I admired him greatly; he’d think nothing of hosting a crab feast in our yard for a big crowd of the Penn Daw Fire Dept. Auxiliary.”

Some legacies are rooted in wonderful experiences

Larry shared, “The legacies my father, Joseph, passed on to me and my seven siblings were not tangible things—like a pocket watch or money—but much more valuable: an all-encompassing value system. I grew up during the Depression, and my dad was busy keeping bread on the table, but found time to nurture our imaginations, our skills, our characters, and our spirits. To me, these legacies never tarnish, never depreciate, never decay throughout life.”

[Source]
“When I was a boy, I was my dad’s “tag-along” buddy,” remembered Ray. “We’d go to places like the VFW Post, the Knights of Columbus Hall, the barbershop, and bricklaying side jobs at the homes of his friends. I enjoyed being a part of ‘Alfie’s’ world, listening to conversations while having some pop and chips. Dad’s legacy was showing me how to be a good buddy.”  Friendship and helping go together, in Ray’s view: “When I help a friend cut down a dead tree or fix a plumbing problem, I know my dad is smiling down on me.”

Old-fashioned, practical advice is a common legacy 

 “My dad was one to share a few pearls of wisdom,” Christine chuckled. “My favorites are:
1. Honesty is the best policy.
2. Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today.
3. If you don't have to stand---sit. If you don't have to sit---lie down.”

Bev grew up in a family business where everyone was involved. “My parents gave me so many life tips, like:  
Take pride in your work and, finish what you start.
If you can't pay for it with one week’s pay you can't afford it (except for a house and a car.)
Try to accept others for who they are and remember, we are all different."

There are legacies that read like an eHow page

[Source]
Christine continued: “My dad, who was raised on a sugar beet farm, told us that the WHOLE apple is good, and sure enough he would eat the whole thing. And now, I do too.” She recently learned that the apple seeds are very nutritious. “People give me surprised looks, and I explain,’that’s what my dad taught me.’”  
Beverly, just shy of 60, has never been in an accident, thanks to her dad’s bald instruction: “Drive like everyone is out to kill you.”

Combing legacies for condolence cues

These most-prized legacies are weightless yet fill the heart. In writing a condolence note when a friend has lost a father (in this example,) recognize something you perceive to be a legacy. It may be an first-hand observation of the man, or a quality of character adopted by the child.
Here are some suggestions:

“I could sit for hours listening to your Dad's stories about ____. He will be greatly missed.”
“Your father’s carpentry tools will never grow rusty. Like him, you’re ready to help …”
"Your dad greeted everyone at the church door with a cheery ‘_______’’”
“I remember watching you work on that Camaro, with your Pop …"
"Your father inspired me to volunteer at _____ by his work with ______, "

For more insights about writing a condolence for the death of a greatest generation mother or father, read:

Death Over 85
Curb Your Enthusiasm? Not in my condolence!

Thank you for caring!