Robbie Miller Kaplan's Blog (218)

Teaching Children to Comfort the Bereaved

I learned to be comfortable with the bereaved because at a young age, I was the bereaved. I witnessed firsthand how young friends, their parents, my neighbors, teachers, school officials, relatives, and family friends treated me and interacted with me upon learning that my father died.


And yet it was my mom who taught me how to comfort the bereaved. She connected by phone, cooked a meal, visited the bereaved, and continued to help long past when others ceased to…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on August 8, 2012 at 2:00pm — No Comments

Respecting Different Mourning Rituals

We live in a multicultural age where many of us have family members from different faiths and nationalities. And yet when someone in our social circle or community dies and they’re from a different culture or faith, we often seem at a loss for what’s appropriate to do. If we ignore the religious and cultural rituals of the bereaved, we run the risk that our thoughtful gesture may cause confusion rather than solace.


For example, a friend was perplexed after his…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on July 16, 2012 at 6:30am — 2 Comments

What Not to Say in Sympathy Notes

Years ago I had the opportunity to read condolence notes sent to a friend upon the death of her teenage daughter. There were hundreds of sympathy cards and handwritten notes, many of them thoughtfully and beautifully written. But to this day, there was one that still disturbs me.


The sender, an old friend, expressed her condolences. But she went on to mention that she was sitting in her home office working on her expense reports. Her next door neighbor was having…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on July 2, 2012 at 7:30am — No Comments

Adventures with my dad

My father died when I was little so I don’t have many of the memories that most people have. I don’t know his favorite expression nor do I know what advice he may have given. I don’t even recall particular facial gestures. But what I do vividly remember are solo adventures with dad and they all involved sports.

My dad was a wonderful athlete and he was tall and handsome. He would pack three or four of us kids in the car on Saturday or Sunday and we were off for some kind…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on June 13, 2012 at 11:30am — No Comments

When a Sympathy Note is Belated

Many people wonder, is it okay to send a belated condolence note? And if it is okay, how late can it be? You may be shocked to learn that many bereaved family members wouldn’t be offended by a belated condolence note. 


That surprised me. Several years ago, an acquaintance died while I was on vacation. His warmth and kindness made an impression on me and I wanted to write his wife a sympathy note. Weeks turned into months and I finally wrote the note, almost one year…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on June 4, 2012 at 9:00am — 1 Comment

Should children write sympathy notes?

Many parents wonder if it’s appropriate for children to write sympathy notes. Should parents expose their children to death? And if so, at what age are children old enough to understand the complex feelings of sorrow and grief when a loved one dies?


These are tough questions to answer. From my perspective, it is never too early to learn compassion. Since so many adults struggle to write sympathy notes, wouldn’t it be beneficial to teach our children how to write…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on May 22, 2012 at 2:30pm — No Comments

Mother’s Day Gifts

It’s hard not to think about my mom on Mother’s Day but this year, it would be impossible. Not only is it the day of the year that we honor our mothers but this year, Mother’s Day falls on my birthday, so it’s the day my mother gave birth to me.

So how am I remembering my mom? Lately, I’ve been thinking about her wisdom. How wise she was and what wonderful advice she gave. When I had a problem, she listened. In my younger days, she had a habit of telling me what to do and…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on May 7, 2012 at 8:30am — No Comments

Must a sympathy note be memorable?

When expressing sympathy, isn’t thoughtful enough?


When someone dies, we express our sympathy by writing notes to the bereaved, hoping to provide some comfort. Many of us feel that if we write memorable notes, we’ll somehow make a difference. But all that pressure causes us to struggle, trying to find just the right words for a meaningful message.


If your goal is to write a memorable sympathy note, maybe you’re trying too hard. Think about what…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on April 26, 2012 at 7:30am — No Comments

What you should never say to the bereaved

Words might be the best way to express condolences following a death and it’s the words that stay with us the longest. Unfortunately, it’s the negative words that the bereaved seem to remember, so think carefully before you speak.


One bereaved mom told me that she still remembers what a friend said, even though her baby died thirteen years ago. “She told me my baby was in a better place. How could she be in a better place when she should be here with me?”…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on April 2, 2012 at 4:00pm — 5 Comments

The art of keeping in touch

Years ago, it was easy to feel socially connected. You knew your neighbors and all the tradespeople. When you did your errands, people knew who you were and probably knew your family. When things got tough, word spread that someone in the community was sick, hospitalized, or died. When you moved throughout your day, people had an inkling of what was going on and asked about you and your family. Maybe someone mowed your lawn or shoveled your snow; casseroles appeared and you and…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on March 23, 2012 at 12:30pm — No Comments

Reaching out to the bereaved and getting no response

When bad things happen, it can be hard to know what to say or do. So it’s not unusual that many of us struggle over what we’ll say and how we’ll say it. We might spend a great deal of time crafting written messages when communicating with those facing loss, carefully choosing the words to use and the method of delivery. Or we might compose verbal messages, hoping they will convey our heartfelt sympathy.


So what happens when you write appropriate messages or verbally…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on March 9, 2012 at 9:00am — 2 Comments

Am I grieving for Whitney Houston?

In this Nov. 22, 2009, file photo, singer Whitney Houston receives the International Artist Award onstage at the 37th Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Houston, who reigned as pop music's queen until her majestic voice and regal image were ravaged by drug use, has died, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. She was 48. (AP Photo - Matt Sayles, File) Is it possible to grieve for someone you don’t know? When they announced Whitney Houston’s death, I felt a deep sense of loss. I never saw or met Houston but I loved her music. Her songs were the soundtrack to many milestones in my life and I felt so sad at the tragic loss of so much talent at…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on February 24, 2012 at 9:30pm — 1 Comment

What can you possibly say?

I’m reading a murder mystery and the victim is a male adolescent. A group of parents whose children were friends with the victim meet to console one another. One parent asks, “Has anyone been in touch with his parents?” Other parents respond, “No. What could we possibly say?”


While this might be fiction, the dilemma is not. Many people shy away from the bereaved, or even the sick, because they don’t know what to say. Or, they stay away for fear they’ll say the wrong…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on February 15, 2012 at 1:30pm — 1 Comment

It’s okay to wait

A member of my community died last week. The death was sudden and unexpected and the bereaved were overwhelmed. There were so many people who attended the reception after the funeral that they couldn’t fit into the home. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those people will be around to comfort the bereaved when real mourning occurs in the weeks and months ahead.

We’re often…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on January 23, 2012 at 8:00am — No Comments

Simple gestures pack a lot of punch

A few years back I did a radio interview on how to write a condolence note. The interviewer mentioned some distinguished public speakers, quoting passages of notes they’d written. He asked me how the general public could replicate these meaningful messages. I was shocked for a moment thinking that if anyone expected to personally write such grandiose notes, they’d be so intimidated they’d never get them done. And maybe that’s why so many people procrastinate and struggle to write…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on January 6, 2012 at 11:00am — No Comments

Lasting comfort

The huge box in the foyer sparked curiosity and excitement as my daughters made their way in from school. Almost in unison they asked, “What’s in the box?” “It’s our legacy,” I replied as I pushed the box into the living room. I slit the tape and pulled back the flaps, reaching in to pull out an old down quilt. Unimpressed with a faded quilt, the girls went off to find a snack…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on December 8, 2011 at 3:00pm — 3 Comments

Grief never takes a holiday

So many of our holiday traditions are family-centered, making it painful to face the holidays after a loved one dies. Despite the pain, some people find it comforting to continue the old traditions that they've enjoyed. Since grief in itself is exhausting, it can be too overwhelming to try and build new traditions when mourning a loved one.

How you choose to handle…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on December 1, 2011 at 11:00am — 12 Comments

Is a sympathy note always necessary?

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “How do I write a sympathy note?” Most of us know how to write a note; after all we’ve been writing thank you notes for many years. But addressing the topic of death is challenging; what can we possibly say to make someone feel better after losing a loved one?

Loss is painful and when someone is hurting, it’s…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on November 14, 2011 at 9:00am — 1 Comment

The impact of your loss on others

My father died decades ago and he was part of my life a very short time. My siblings and I don’t talk about him much yet his death was probably the most formative experience of our lives.


Our family had a joyous event last week when my nephew married and it pulled us together from near and far. The bride and groom honored family members who had died in their wedding program. I expected to see my mother included but finding my dad’s name surprised me. That, and the groom’s…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on November 1, 2011 at 10:00am — No Comments

Tell me a story

One of the kindest things you can do for someone who’s lost a loved one is to help keep their memory alive through stories. I was reminded of this recently when a friend’s daughter wrote to me asking for my support in a philanthropic endeavor to honor her mother’s memory. She added, “I would also like to extend an invitation to those of you who knew my mom personally to send me a short story about my mom. It always makes me smile to know people are remembering her.”


So how do…


Added by Robbie Miller Kaplan on October 17, 2011 at 9:00am — No Comments

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