Sunday, January 21, 2024

Condolence By Email: Caring Words Don't Need Postage

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It's time for me to update a position I wrote about over a decade ago. In writing To Hold A Card In Your Hand, I referenced etiquette expert Miss Manners (Judith Martin) and the courtesies and comforts of condolence notes received through the mail. The qualities I was most enthusiastic about had to do with being able to share the card, re-read the card, and to hold a card. And while there is certainly no reason to argue against those benefits, let's look at some realities.


Today, we know a lot of people through affiliations of activities, employment, volunteering, social media, chance-but-meaningful encounters and numerous other connections. BUT WE DO NOT KNOW THEIR MAILING ADDRESSES. In fact, in so many affiliations it would seem intrusive to even ask for a mailing address. I have encountered that 'awkward moment' in asking, and better realized that someone felt my request was crossing a line---too personal. So let's respect that, and move on.

There is a very good chance that your affiliation does include an email address. Never use email addresses for solicitation unless it is clearly a networking affiliation such as LinkedIn, Meetup, Facebook or another social media forum with the key purpose of information exchange.


Condolence by email does allow sharing and re-reading. I have done both with emailed condolences and appreciate the quick access to archived email. Most importantly, the caring gesture, the sympathy and compassionate outreach is appreciated by someone facing a loss. 

Will there be a later cup of coffee and more sharing? You could mention it if both of you are local. But it is okay to maintain the electronic line and even elevate the 'meeting of hearts and minds', over the meeting of eyes over lattes.


With this established, what does your e-condolence say? 

  • E-cards: It's not necessary, but if you subscribe to an e-card app this is a good start. There are themes for sympathy and you can select the right imagery and vibe. Most cards are animated and have a soundtrack, so exercise the patience to preview the card to determine if it is suited to the recipient and the nature of the loss.

  • Your words: There is only one mission to a condolence:  COMFORT. Never express a personal
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    agenda or judgment in condolence! I have actually been told or overhead these ill-suited comments: "Now that your cat is gone you can babysit my cat when I travel." "Being single has its benefits." "You can take your mind off it with the new project." "You still have the other kids." "Well, she was very old." "My memorial donation to ____ is eligible for the extra charitable deduction." Readers, you get my point!
  • Sorry. Gratitude. Good Memories. Admiration. Connect with your heart before you start typing, and certainly before you hit SEND. This note does not have to be particularly lengthy, just focus on caring. Re-read your sympathy expression: does it warm your heart? If so, you have written a lovely e-condolence. 
Thank you for caring...and sharing!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Grief and Condolence During the Holidays

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This is the darkest day of the year... 

according to astrophysical data; the winter solstice brings sunrise later and sunset sooner. For someone grieving, that's nothing new. 

And it doesn't need to be "new" grief to feel acute at this time of year. Holiday seasons are known to trigger sentimental longings in general, and very painful longings for loved ones (and pets) who are no longer in our physical world.

If you are compassionately leaning toward others who are struggling during these days of holiday songs, decorations, gaiety, and celebration rituals, here are some helpful ideas from some of my past posts.

If you are grieving---newly or seasonally, these and other posts may be helpful. You can use the keyword search to find many more supportive posts, including posts about specific types of loss.

Gifts For Someone Grieving

Condolence During the Holidays

Nan Zastrow's 8 Steps to Tame the Holiday Blues

Supporting Grieving Teens

Compassion for Pet Loss

Surprise: I Thought I Was Past Grieving

Thank you for caring and sharing!

Monday, October 23, 2023

Undoing the Stress of llness

What is the Undoing Hypothesis?

"Undoing" is pretty simple: you counteract a stressful experience or situation with a steady intake of comforting images and experiences. It is so beautifully accessible to all, that I felt I must be its advocate...and encourage you to be, too.

I switch up toothpastes to relieve the boredom of brushing; this month, I started using a Tom's of Maine paste. I was inspired by the thought provoking tagline on the tube:

Do a little good today

(My friend Lauren calls it a mitzvah) 

This is right on target for UNDOING as that adjective 'little' entices us with a kernel of hope:  it may not take a huge, costly effort to heal from or regain equilibrium when a difficult experience or illness affects us emotionally. 

What does little look like?

Little could be: waving at a neighbor, snagging that crumpled flyer before it blows down the street, coming to a full stop at the corner, being patient in line, not muting a rambling storyteller in your zoom group, and texting "how are you today?" to an ill friend. 

Doing a little good...when someone is ill

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An illness can be a brief inconvenience or a long road of struggle. When you know a friend or family member is struggling, one method of assisting with undoing is to 
...allow a person to live without a label 😎
One important way to do that is to follow Tom's suggestion to do a little good today. You don't have to concern yourself with cause, prognosis, or preparedness; just show up today and in whatever way seems best for the individual, do a little good!  For some, sending a funny photo, or adorable animal video link is a hit. Validation of the individual-- reminding them of their true qualities as a loving, creative, caring person-- is important. Share some affection, too---it's easy with emoji:  💓💞💜💝🎀🏆 Don't let seriousness overwhelm the circumstance: undoing can be helped by a silly moment, a laugh!👙👠⚽🎈🏄🎠🌅🌈🌎🌊

Let today be what it is. 

In a culture of supersizing, doing a little good has a lovely vibration of gentleness and simplicity. I love to simply ask "how is your day?" Then just listen. When you are trusted, your friend or loved one will feel safe saying things like "I don't feel well today," or "I didn't cry today," or even "I think I'm turning a corner: I'm ready to let it go."

My weekly visits to persons in a care center for hospice, take on many forms. It can be dining room chitchat about pigtails and ice cream. It can be offering one faith nugget to dispel worry or a kernel of kindness in playing an old song on your phone. I am not curing or removing a terminal condition; that is not my undoing role. But I am offering peace---the undoing of desperation and fear. Peace is a huge gift; actually, you are not giving the peace but you are helping someone navigate to find it in the center of their being. 

And the day(s) may come when you enter the room and say, "I'm here, it's me, __________, I'm just going to keep you company now."  And the 'little good' of just sitting quietly nearby, with or without a light touch, is immeasurably perfect.

More posts on supporting the ill or dying:

Thank you for caring and sharing!

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Hiring A Eulogy Writer: Composing Great Words For A Great Tribute

 I love how we all agree: there's a story to every life! 

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And The Eulogy Writers recognize this first and foremost. They also recognize that when you are acutely mourning the death of a dear one, and planning a service, it can be very hard to gather all the love and pain into one cohesive tribute. Writing a eulogy is an act of honoring someone but it is also an important opportunity to tell the story of one life. That is a big task. It reminds me of that famous poem, The Dash, where the author notes that between the events of birth and death a remarkable story unfolds. 

In my years of funeral service, I have set up the microphone for various clergypersons, life celebrants, and family members. Once everyone was settled in the chapel, I would sit in the office and listen to the service. I've heard very sad attempts at eulogies -- not just "sorrow" sad but the kind of sad that made me heartsick... this designated person arrived to be the officiant and spokesperson and might as well have been mowing their lawn...that's how dull and trite and cliched and impersonal it was.

A passion for touching hearts

And then there was Rev. Dr. Steven Schafer.

Steve Schafer
At the time, Steve was pastor of a nearby Congregational Church. He was passionate about his work and especially about the honor of eulogizing. We would call on him frequently for families without a clergy connection, and Steve would quickly arrange to meet them. His tenderness in guiding a discussion of sharing about a loved one resulted in a deep understanding, respect, and joy for the shining human light that had just left this world. Steve was so skilled at working with families during this painful time of funeral preparation that he authored a book, Funerals For Strangers where he shared not only suggestions on how to craft a memorable eulogy but offered many templates for comforting, uplifting tributes. 

Today, a collective of similarly gifted men and women (Ralph DiBiasio-Snyder, Abi Galeas, Miriam Hill) have joined with Steve Schafer to offer timely eulogy preparation --- delivery promised within 24 hours! The Eulogy Writers - Writers of Great Eulogies For Over Forty Years.

"Our job is to take your words and organize your thoughts and artfully phrase your memories in such a way that you will be proud to present the story of the one you've loved and lost."

Empowering You

It is really special when, despite nervousness and sadness, a family member rises from their chair and shares from the heart how their loved one lived and impacted others. The Eulogy Writers want to empower a family with a tribute that feels and sounds like your voice. The pages of clients' appreciation speak volumes. 

I have not been compensated for this blog post and I hope it doesn't sound like an advertorial. I simply want to share my experience and point out the exceptional before you have to google the topic yourself. You may not need this support service today or tomorrow. You may have just attended or facilitated a funeral service and hope it's a long time before the next. I too, hope your road remains smooth. But file this away:  if the time comes, consider the value and support gained in hiring a eulogy writer.

Thank you for caring and sharing!

Readers: you may be interested in reading this post, which contains Steve Schafer's guidance on Writing Condolence To Clergy

Monday, June 19, 2023

Time Management After A Loss: Average Days Are Good!

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We all strive--or hope and pray for daily equilibrium but in truth, life can be like corn popping --

challenging us to adapt, respond, navigate. We can be quite amazing in how much we juggle, how we steady ourselves with humor, gratitude, love, and dedication. 

Weighty Days

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Living with grief has enough "weight" attached to it that a person can truly feel in an altered state.  Whether one is coming down from the intensity of caregiving, or coping with sudden changes and stresses in financial security and family matters, ADAPTING, RESPONDING, and NAVIGATING don't come as easily now. At times, we can't see the crack of light under the weight. For most of us, time and a support system enable us to recover--growing stronger and more steady as we regain equilibrium.

I'll take average!

Visiting patients on hospice at a local care facility, my presence as a friendly listener relieves monotony and loneliness. During a recent visit with a 93 year old man I'll call "Dustin," I was both enlightened and delighted by an unintentional pearl of wisdom. The conversation went like this:

"How's your day going, Dustin?"

"Uh, some of it hasn't been easy, but some has been good. I guess it's been average."

"Average? Wow--like finding the average among numbers. I like that, Dustin! Difficult plus good averages out to an average day. Not much wrong with that."

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While my enthusiasm far surpassed his, Dustin acknowledged me with a slight smile, focusing on drawing oxygen from the nasal cannula.  "Average" has had a bad rap as underachieving, compromising, pathetic. I propose we see average as harmonizing, accepting, stable. When you are on a river, "going with the flow" sums up a current that may have rocks and floating debris, as well as leaping fish and turtles on logs. It averages out well.

Dustin's remark stands out as a tremendous way to cope with the great swings that occur during grieving. If I can AVERAGE the dark or sad moments with the lift I feel at seeing new blooms and a bird at the feeder; the comfort of a friend's compassionate call; the coziness of wearing a loved one's hoodie... 

I can average out the day's moments and feel hope on this hill, one day at a time.

Thank you for caring...and sharing!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Feathers From Heaven: Loving Blessings From Beyond

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First, the loneliness

Tony and Liz* met at a widower/widow support group. They clicked and continued a steady, comforting companionship. Although we grow in numbers day by day, being widowed---losing a spouse/life partner sure feels lonely! Who else but another grieving spouse can understand how it feels to now wake alone, eat meals alone, make decisions alone, do all the little daily things alone. You look at that section called 'Emergency Contact' on various applications and medical information forms and you're struck (often stuck) wondering: No one's got my back! No one's waiting for me!

So Tony and Liz had many conversations, learned each others' stories---joys and heartbreaks, accomplishments and dreams. They appreciated being real with each other about losing 'the love of their life.' And that's when Liz shared about the feathers. 

People have long had experiences of contact with a departed loved one. It may be a familiar scent in the air, the appearance of a symbol, object, song; the possibilities are endless and deeply personal. Sometimes, a surviving spouse or family member had requested "when you get to heaven, send me a sign," and there may have been an agreed-upon indicator. Liz had heard of someone receiving a feather as a sign of wellbeing after death. She liked that idea and told her dying husband, Lenny: Please send me feathers of encouragement.

Well, she got feathers! Liz has told of feathers wafting in her home, and laying on unexpected surfaces. It warms her heart. She shared the story of feathers with Tony, who'd never heard of such things. He'd not asked his weakening wife for a heavenly signal and now regretted it. What a comfort it would be to somehow hear from Maura!

One afternoon, sitting together on Liz's patio, a feather drifted down and settled on her leg. Look at that! they both happily acknowledged. Moments later, the feather lifted on a slight breeze and, "of all the places it could have gone to settle, it landed on my leg!" Tony marveled.

There was no doubt in their minds. It was a loving blessing from beyond. 

How To Respond

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Readers come to this blog to learn and grow in sensitivity. The takeaways I'll leave you with, as a caring friend are these:
  • Be supportive, whether or not you believe in unusual or paranormal experience. Say:
    •  I can tell you have been comforted by this, and I am so happy for you. 
    • Who am I to judge whether this is possible or not? It is fascinating, wonderful, and a blessing!
  • Do not judge, belittle, try to explain, or re-direct your widowed friend to what you deem are more worthwhile activities or insights. 

Read more about special messages from departed loved ones: 

Unusual Comforts in Grief: keep your opinions to yourself

Thank you for caring and sharing!

*This true story was shared with me, but for their privacy, I've changed names.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Five More Breaths: Be Patient With The Dying

Dear Readers,

It is a pleasure to announce my new book:  Path of Possibilities, 101 One-Hundred Word Stories, available on Amazon.

What is it about? These very short stories (a genre known as Flash Fiction,) are grouped in four sections: 

  • Adventuring in nature
  • Being human
  • 'Bizarro' -- strange circumstances, and
  • Consciousness and spirit. 
I enjoyed every hour of writing and believe there is something here for every reader. I hope you'll check it out.

Today, I want to share a story (#100), derived from one of my vigiling experiences; of course, names have been changed.

Five More Breaths

Elsa headed home for supper with the cat. “Bring a jacket back; it cools after dark,” called Rosie, checking Joseph’s pulse. Mouth breathing now, his cage of ribs as delicate as bird bones, lifted slightly. She raised the window sash before returning to Joseph. I sensed a passage for spirits as she coaxed, “You get going now. We love you but those angels are waiting.”

Stillness. Satisfied he’d departed, Rosie removed the pillow, straightened the sheet, and left. I stayed, watchful. 

Breath. Space. I stayed. 


I’m still here, Joseph. Are you? 

Breath. Life’s last emberglow. Breath. 




💜💜💜 from Path of Possibilities, 101 One-Hundred Word Stories ©2023 Deborah Rochon Roberts

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Have Patience

This vigil reminded me that, despite the physical signs of active dying, we must be patient! Vigiling is the gift of presence that abides with whatever is happening. We recognize that this is not some quantifiable medical phenomenon.

This is a sacred time in which the dying person is perceiving on another level (yes, even when unconscious,) and they will choose when to leave.

Sometimes called Cheyne-Stokes breathing, there may be slowing, often irregular and widely spaced breaths--just as this story's gentleman experienced. Be attentive...and patient. In another home vigil, the nurse arrived within 30 minutes of our calling; death had occurred but this wise professional checked carotid and radial pulses and then spent a full minute listening to the heart with a stethoscope before pronouncing and noting a time of death.

I always find it useful to step away from my long-practiced experience to remember that we each may have a first time at the bedside of a dying loved one. It is such a profound time, overflowing with a blend of love, sadness, relief, fear, and uncertainty. For these reasons, I return to my blog's urging to share support and comfort with the grieving.There will be time for words and time for quiet presence. If it's been awhile since you were called to confort with condolence, browse this website--there are so many topics-- trust your caring intentions, and begin.

Thank you for caring...and sharing!


Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Gift of Last Words


Twenty-four hours before his transition, weak, and sedated for comfort in his home hospice bed, Raymond called me over and said softly, "I may not be able to talk tomorrow; there are some things I'd like you to write down."  I took the notebook I'd been using to log medication doses, opened to a new page and replied, "I'm ready, Ray. I'll write down anything you wish."

Over the prior three days, once we had found the right drugs to support his comfort, Ray had spent many hours in a twilight of sleep. Disease symptoms still broke through occasionally, but there were longer intervals of peace. I believe, as do most hospice professionals, that end-of-life sleeping is often a time of life processing, healing of psyche, and soul invigoration. 


Raymond Chappa
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While he loved gentle walks in sunny Arizona, my late husband was also a spiritual contemplative, spending innumerable hours reading and meditating: going inward. Detaching is a phase in dying, and can occur even months before releasing the body. It is the phase of acceptance and peacemaking; it may involve time with others, exchanging goodbyes and expressions of gratitude. For many though, detaching from the worldly, social realm is a choice to "listen" to another realm:  the heart space, the space of Spirit, the space of loved ones on 'the other side.' This is well documented and in my own hospice vigiling, I have witnessed seemingly one-sided conversations, or nodded when a glazed-eyed woman pointed to the window and said happily, "Look at the angels!"

Sacred Space

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Readers of this blog may have read my posts about Sacred Dying. The philosophy encourages creating an environment that recognizes death as a sacred mystery rather than a medical event. Ray and I agreed that in his final days, I would care for his comfort and honor his wish for privacy and peace. He wanted his unencumbered Consciousness free to do its work, free from emotional visitors or phone calls. Yes, it was frustrating for distant family who demanded he take a call, but I was committed to be his guardian angel, bearing a fiery sword if necessary.

Last Words

And so, in a lucid interval, Ray dictated messages as I scribbled. Profoundly aware that he had harvested these words from a very deep place, I cherished each pen stroke.

1. Ray expressed a sentence of thanks to a person who had provided support during a life-changing difficulty many years prior. He asked me to pass the message on.
2. There was a brief message to his brother, with a final wish for a pending inheritance.
3. Finally, he simply shared: 
"There is no one among you
 that I do not love.
Thank you.
No other words are necessary."

Now, two years after his transition, as my own spiritual studies guide me to new awareness, I remember that I was handed an essential Truth by someone very dear, as he stood in the doorway of eternity. It is a Truth we have read in the world's great sacred books. It is a gift.

Thank you for sharing and caring!