Extending Sympathy When You’re out of Touch

When I opened the morning newspaper, the death of a former school superintendent was front page news. I worked for the schools during the superintendent’s tenure and his widow had been in my book club. I had not seen either of them in over a decade.

Later that day I remembered that my former book club member had written me a beautiful condolence note after my mother’s death. She had referred to my mom as my “dear mother” and it touched my heart. Her caring note consoled me at a painful time and I wanted to reach out and do that for her as well.

It was not difficult to locate her address as I am in touch with former book club members. Figuring out what to say was the tough part. How do you write a sympathy note to someone with whom you have lost touch?

I followed my own advice and wrote the note exactly the way I suggest all sympathy notes be written; I shared how I felt. Here’s how I did it:

  • The note began with, “It’s been more than a decade since we’ve been in touch but I wanted to reach out to you and let you know how sad I was to hear of Daniel’s passing.”
  • I followed with my memory of her kindness after my mother died and I let her know how her note had touched me and brought comfort.
  • I closed the note with the hope that her memories would bring solace in the days and weeks ahead.

Extending written condolences is never easy. I find it helps if you prepare a draft and communicate your thoughts and feelings. Consider: Why are you writing the note? Does the news make you sad? Do you want to express your sympathy? What is your relationship to the deceased or the bereaved? What message do you hope to convey?

Sympathy notes are important to the bereaved. They extend needed comfort and your message just may be remembered for years to come.

photo credit: Handmade Sympathy Card via photopin (license)

Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.

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