Tuesday, August 9, 2016

6 Tips for Writing Condolence to a Relative

[Source: Kruno Kartus]
I have a strong suspicion that many readers have not considered writing a condolence note to a relative. Do you recognize these 6 excuses?
  1. We see each other a lot.
  2. I just saw them at the service.
  3. We call, text, or Facebook each other.
  4. Writing seems so formal.
  5. I'd rather give a hug than a letter.
  6. They'll find out I'm not a writer.

When Grandma died in the airport

[Source: Adrian van Leen]
I do write condolences to relatives, and readers of my book remember the story of Grandma's death in an airport restroom. Awful, right? Now imagine how frightened, panicked, and devastated her family felt. Grandpop and my father waited in the terminal while my mother accompanied her mother to the ladies room. "I don't feel well. I need to sit down," moaned Grandma as she sunk to the floor. Being a practical woman, she unpinned her 'corset money' from an undergarment, which she earned from bead and crochet crafts, and handed it to her daughter. My mother felt so powerless to render comfort other than her presence. And by the time an EMT team arrived, Grandma had succumbed to the heart attack.

Yes, I wrote a note to my mother! It's in the book. For losses spanning human, pet, job and other difficult life circumstance, I  have written condolences to my father, siblings, sisters-and-mother-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Relatives are people, too

The reasons for writing a condolence are universal. You are striving to lend support and a few moments of comfort. You have many advantages in being a relative:  you likely have one or several special memories--including photos, to share; in fact, your relationship and likely interactions with the deceased are unique, increasing the likelihood of a unique memory! Did your uncle recognize an interest or talent and give you a nurturing gift? Did you pet-sit for your sister's cat and discover something special in its golden-eyed gaze? Did your brother-in-law help you move after a divorce? These memories can be shared, thanks and appreciation can be expressed. Did you watch your aging mother-in-law make--and lose--friend after friend?

[Source: Adrian van Leen]
The comfort that your note delivers does not--should not--be wrapped in complex, philosophical or religious explanations. You are 'off the hook' to take away pain, map out the future, or give wise advice. Just be sincere. Now, more than ever, real handwritten, hold-in-the-hand condolences are treasures. They are re-read during quiet and lonely times; they are shared with others; they provide what the digital age cannot.

6 Tips for writing to a relative

Let me caution you:  if you think that buying a lovely card and writing "so sorry for your loss, she will be missed" is adequate, please click on the links peppered throughout this post for a quick, comprehensive review of condolence writing. You don't need to use all 6 tips at once. Think about the deceased and the recipient, then listen to your heart.
  1. Acknowledge the loss and express sympathy:  "I am so sorry this day has come; Terry's death leaves an empty space."
  2. Acknowledge the relationship:  "Your sister, Mary, knew she could count on you." 
  3. Share a classic, well known memory:  "Bailey's greeting at the door always made me smile." 
  4. Share a personal/unique memory:  "Uncle Rick saw my creative side and gave me a set of pastel crayons." (Never break a confidence, or share cruel or embarrassing memories.) 
  5. Offer encouragement and/or help:  "I know you're facing a big job to ready the house for sale, so remember: my truck and my time are at your service." 
  6. Express gratitude for the recipient or deceased:  "You were so supportive to Elsa, especially when she couldn't feed herself; it taught me a lot about compassion."

Which relative should I write to?

Who is the next-of-kin? Who do you have a connection to? If you are closer to your cousin than to your aunt who just lost her husband, it's okay to write to your cousin; he or she will probably share the note.

Should I write to more than one relative?

You certainly can, but don't feel pressured to blow through a 12-pack of note cards. While considering which relative to write to, your heart will put checkmarks by those you want to express sympathy to. Attending a visitation or service allows you to touch base with many people, which can 'winnow' the roster of notes. Review your memories and your emotional, heartfelt responses; if you feel the impulse, writing two or three simple and caring notes is lovely.

When should I write?

We write condolence notes even when we attend services. If you can be present for gatherings, consider delaying your note until after; you will return to your desk ready to share feelings and observations with enriched awareness of:
  • the scope of a family and community's shared affection
  • life details you did not know such as quiet achievements and talents, branch of military service, significant dates
  • qualities of your note's recipient
Thank you for caring!

No comments: