Q. Next month is the first anniversary of the death of a friend’s daughter. Is it appropriate to call or write at that time to acknowledge the anniversary, or will that just stir up painful memories?
A. Your concern about causing pain is a common one. Yet one of the best things you can do for someone who has lost a loved one is talk about—and listen to the person talk about—the deceased. This is true not only around the time of the funeral and mourning, but on the loved one’s birthday, holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, and anniversaries of the death. These are times when the survivor tends to be preoccupied with the loss.
Be assured that your friend is all too well aware that his or her child died a year ago. A call or a card with a brief message means a lot. It’s a comfort to know others care and remember the loved one.
What do you say? It depends on your relationship with the person and/or the deceased. Just a brief message on a correspondence card, such as “I’m thinking of you today" or “You’re on my mind today,” speaks eloquently whether the recipient is someone very close to you or a coworker. Or you can send a “Thinking of You” greeting card, adding something like “We miss Susan so much. It’s hard to believe a year has passed.” Or you can even send an e-mail, saying the same thing you’d say on a card.
If the death occurred around a holiday, you can choose to combine an acknowledgment with Christmas or Easter greetings, for example. You might write at the bottom of the card, “The holiday will never be the same without Jenny. You are in our hearts.”
Regardless of how you do it, the point is to express empathy, be sincere, and know that your acknowledgement will be appreciated. Keep the message short, unless the recipient is a very close family member or friend. In that case, you’ll have more to say and can, if you wish, write something lengthier and more intimate. Remember, too, that anytime is a good time to send a photo of the deceased you happened to come across, with a note saying something like “I found this picture of John today and thought you’d like to have it. He was a special guy.”
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 / H. Michael Karshis