Friday, November 29, 2013

Condolence During Holidays

In the 1934 romantic movie, Death Takes A Holiday, the character,“Death”, takes a break from duties to spend 3 days as a mortal man, where he falls in love. In reality, death never takes a holiday. 


The end of life can come on any day.


Festive plans are cancelled and happy occasions are seemingly scarred. A dear local matriarch is profiled in the newspaper, celebrating her 100th birthday and, two months later, takes her last breath on New Year’s Day … My husband’s family remembers their grandfather had a fatal heart attack after his shift ended at the Dodge Plant on Christmas Eve, 1947:  “without a word, we just started taking ornaments off the tree.” For them, a busy, joy-filled season was exchanged for a black wreath on the door and a blustery graveside burial.

How can sympathy be commingled with seasonal greetings during holidays and other special days? It can’t.

Should traditional messages be set aside? Yes.

Here are my top 4 suggestions for writing condolence notes during a holiday season:




  1. The best approach is to honor the life of the deceased and express your own feelings.  When I heard that Jeremy died on Thanksgiving Day, my first thought was how grateful I was for his friendship.”

2. Do not write a sympathy note on the goofy Christmas card you planned to send to everyone on your list. Peaceful winter scene: YES. Standard imprint: NO.  Buy a blank card or a sympathy card.

Stay on task:  you are writing a condolence note. Period.

3. Grieving during a holiday season can be extremely challenging. If you have personal experience with a loss during a holiday or special occasion, share briefly, but do not give advice. The only good advice are gentle encouragements like, “Do what is comfortable,” or “Be easy on yourself.”  Instead of a clich├ęd “let’s get together soon” try:  “can you join me next Wednesday for breakfast at the coffee shop—@ 8:30?” Over coffee, just be a good listener.

4. Finally, mark your calendar and, next year, compose a one-year anniversary note. This might be the time to mention a special Christmas ornament, a memorial tree or tulips planted and now thriving, or a sweet memory about sweet potatoes.

“There is nothing sweeter than to be sympathized with.” George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

Read more about grief and sympathy during the holiday seasons: Nan Zastrow's 8 steps to tame the holiday blues

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