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:


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...


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.


Why do we write?

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

Beyond I'm Sorry


Miss Manners Votes for Old Fashioned Condolence

Some Keys to Comfort Explained

Grief and Health: The healing powers of condolence

Thank you for caring!

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