Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dear Frank, I'm Sorry You Died: Writing to the Deceased

When a person whom we loved, appreciated, enjoyed the company of-- dies, a relationship is suddenly severed.

We may remember our last encounter and conversation:  He'd been feeling poorly, so I took him some chili and put it in a saucepan to warm. He gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and said, 'Thanks, Helen. You're the best.' A few days later, I got the call that he'd died in his sleep.

So, you never got to ask him how he liked the chili (and your Tupperware is still in his sink.) You wanted to tell him that his suggestion to plant lavender in that hot patch of yard, worked out beautifully. Thank him for letting your cat relax under his RV on hot summer days; and apologize for gloating when you won that last game of euchre. But mostly, you wanted to tell him, again, he'd been a wonderful neighbor and friend.

The condolence coach says:  Go ahead and tell him.

Why not write a note to your late, great friend? 

I see guest book entries at the funeral home website such as this:  
  "Eddie, you were always a great guy to be around. I know we will meet again down the road. Best wishes to your family. It was a honor to have worked with you."  

Placing extra pages in the register book, I overheard two men talking. One referred to his wife who had died four years ago: "She loved to hunt and fish ... she was beautiful!" I interrupted the speaker to say with a smile, "She's listening!"

He returned my smile, peacefully remarking:
"I talk to her every day."

Readers may recall the Condolence Coach writing about memorial poems that use the voice of the dead. In his poem, All Is Well, Henry Scott Holland penned the line, "I have only slipped away into the next room." I counseled against giving this type of poem to the grieving, and I cited a Condolence Coach Rule:
Do not give advice; do not cajole the grieving to 'move on;' do not share your belief system's answer on what happens after death.

The note you will write to your deceased friend may be sent to the family member of your choice. Begin the note by 'setting the stage for your monologue' with one of these elements:

  • "I am very sorry for your loss. [Name] was such a good friend [or other relationship term]. If I had one more chance to speak to [him/her] I would say..."
  • "Thank you for inviting me to all those cookouts and family gatherings, where I got to know your wonderful [dad, mom, brother, etc.] [Name]influenced me in so many ways, and helped me to ______.  If I had one more chance to speak to [him/her] I would say..."

In summary, the structure of your note should flow with these elements:

  1. Acknowledge the grieving family's loss and/or express appreciation for a personal quality.
  2. 'Speak' to the decedent.
  3. (optional element) Comment on the value of the memories you have.
  4. Conclude with a sincere wish for the family's comfort and peace.
Author photo
One important footnote to this topic!
If you have "stormy", negative feelings or bad memories about the deceased, the Condolence Coach suggests you express yourself freely with a close friend, or in a journal. Though born of heartfelt experience, those feelings do not belong in your note to the family, as this may be hurtful.

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