Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Rush Your Condolence Note

You're ready to hop in the car and go the wake or service but-- darn-- you haven't bought a card.


It is not necessary that you walk in with a card. I would even like to suggest that putting a little time between the funeral and writing your note can be very helpful for you-- and your grieving friend who is, at the moment, overwhelmed with details and caring people.

ON MONDAY, as Ray and I drove by the New Hope Tabernacle of Detroit, it became clear that the funeral for my neighbor's brother was going to be a big deal. Cars jammed the modest parking lot, and lined the streets, for blocks. Here is what I knew about Bertha's brother:  n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

We made our way into the cozy church, noting a message chiseled by the door:  1966 A.D. Jesus, the real cornerstone. The vestibule was shoulder to shoulder with men and women dressed in their finest white and cream. An efficient usher led us right into the crowded church and coaxed two seats onto an already full pew.

It was Family Hour, and stories of great affection were being shared from the pulpit microphone, for this was not a sad day, but a celebration of their wise and beloved friend and mentor, Suffragan Bishop Rush Lockhart, Pastor and Founder of the church. We quickly perused the large, glossy program containing a narrative of the bishop's life and geneology, spotting Bertha's name. And when the 60+ person choir formed rows on the sanctuary steps and began to sing, the vibrance brought tears to my eyes.

How foolish I felt, to have considered writing a condolence note the night before. How do you write a note when you know n-o-t-h-i-n-g?

Waiting can enhance the note you will write

  • At the visitation and funeral, you are going to meet interesting people who have a connection to the deceased.
  • At those gatherings, stories and memories will be shared: formally during a eulogy, or in conversation.
  • While you are in the funeral home, you will see lots of family photographs.
So, the array of stimulus during your time at the funeral home or church will be tremendous:  the room, flowers, people, mementos, stories heard (and overheard), music played or sung... You have just solved the core question:
"What should I write in my condolence note?"
These are examples:
  1. I didn't know that your Grandfather was once the mayor of _____! I hope you will tell me more about that.
  2. What was it like growing up in ____?
  3. I met one of [name's] teachers who told me that he ______
  4. Your Mom encouraged you to try new things by setting an example. I loved that photo of you both water skiing.
  5. When they played "Wind Beneath My Wings" at the service, I remembered the time ____
  6. After seeing all of [name's] trophies, I understood why ____
  7. The Navy Honor Guard at the funeral made me realize that your Dad ____

Waiting can benefit the bereaved who receives your note

As I noted above, during the time of the funeral, the grieving family's days are filled with so much to do, and the flow of contact with concerned people-- in person, on the phone and computer, often means less time to pause and consider (and care for) their own feelings about the death.
  • Receiving a condolence note a week, a month, or longer after the service will be very comforting. Remember:  if you do not have the home address of the family or friend you are writing to, send it to the funeral home for forwarding.
  • Your note will be unique, memorable, and a keepsake. 
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 Thank you for caring!

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