Q. I just heard that the mother of an old friend died several months ago. I haven’t seen or talked to the friend in over a year due to her move to another state and my own busy life. Her mom was very kind to me when I was a teenager and needed all the positive reinforcement I could get. I’d like to send a condolence note, but so much time has passed and I feel embarrassed about losing touch. Should I write or not? What can I say?
It’s never too late to express sympathy, especially if the deceased made an impact on your life and/or the bereaved really means something to you. The problem is it’s hard enough to write a condolence message under the best of circumstances. Embarrassment just adds an extra excuse to forget the whole thing.
Although it’s true that you’ve been out of touch, it’s also true that she hasn’t contacted you either. She’s probably just as skittish as you are. And people do appreciate receiving condolence notes, regardless of when they arrive. It’s comforting to know that someone made the effort.
To find the right words, try to relax and think about your friend and her mother. Let your mind wander and see what pops out. You’re apt to recall memories that make you smile. It’s the little things that often mean a lot. Positive recollections will also resonate for your friend, bringing her mother alive.
For example, your own wording above could be a powerful way to start: “Dear ---, What can I say? I happened to meet your uncle, who told me that your mom died last March. I was shocked. She always seemed indestructible. I was just remembering when she drafted us to help plant her vegetable garden. I’ve got a green thumb today, thanks to her. She taught me how to bake brownies, too. I won’t forget her. I send my deepest condolences.”
It’s up to you whether you mention resuming contact. Sometimes we just want to say goodbye to the deceased, nothing more. But if you do want to reconnect, you can add, “This news makes me realize how much time has passed since we last talked. Please let me know what’s going on in your life. My e-mail address is----.” Or tell her that you’ll call soon, if you want to do that.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Beverly & Pack