Q: When my father died recently, I received flowers and many condolence notes. Do I have to send acknowledgments right away? What should I say?
A. It’s courteous and important to acknowledge notes of sympathy, as well as flowers or food baskets you’ve received, or contributions made in memory of the deceased. Finding the right words can be difficult, however, especially if you must write to a great many people. One widow I know had to compose 75 acknowledgments and survived only by spreading the task out over a six-week span.
Fortunately, no one expects you to respond immediately, and you do have time to write when you are up to it. People do understand. In addition, it is not necessary to write an acknowledgment for a condolence card that simply bears a printed sentiment and a signature. But if someone has written a personal note on a sympathy card or on stationery, the individual should receive a response from you.
The best notes are brief, unless you’re writing to someone very close to you. Just try to personalize your words, as in, “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to receive your note. My sister always considered you her mentor (or appreciated your hospitality as she was growing up).”
When a contribution has been made or an item has been sent to you, be as specific as possible, as in, “I’m so fortunate to have good friends like you. Thank you so much for your contribution to (name of charity or institution) in memory of my mother.”
If you’re writing to someone who attended the funeral, you might mention that, as in, “It was such a comfort to see you at Bill’s funeral and to receive your caring note. I find myself recalling the good times we all had together. Thank you for being there.”
Another option is, “This is a difficult time, and your kind words and generosity are so appreciated. Thank you for the beautiful fruit basket.”
Depending on your relationship with the person, sign off with “Love” or “Sincerely” or “Best,” or simply sign your name. Whatever feels right tends to be right in these circumstances. Just follow your heart.
If you use printed acknowledgment cards, which are often supplied by funeral homes, add at least one handwritten line to personalize, as in, “I so appreciate your support.”
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.
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