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 memorable means; must your sympathy note be unforgettable, notable, striking, extraordinary, remarkable, or noteworthy? Just listing all those synonyms is enough to intimidate anyone. When it comes to actually writing the condolence message, memorable may be a worthy goal, but how realistic is it? The very act of writing a sympathy note is to show you care. Isn’t it enough to be thoughtful while demonstrating your concern?


The notes that I read that are the most thoughtful have one thing in common; they’re personal. They mention the deceased either by name or relationship. And they relate back in some way to the deceased or the bereaved.


You don’t even need a close or personal connection to write a thoughtful note. A neighbor’s teenage daughter died in an accident and my neighbor shared some of the condolence notes she received. A few of the most thoughtful ones came from members of our community she’d never met. These community members read the obituary of her daughter and were so moved by the loss that they chose to reach out and write a sympathy note. They all mentioned the daughter by name and reiterated some of the qualities that had been shared in the obituary. The spirit of their intention was clear in each note; they were touched by the loss and wanted to comfort the bereaved. And my neighbor truly appreciated each note.


If you write with flair and can craft memorable notes, that’s great. But if you’re like the rest of us, strive for thoughtful. Note the correct names and relationships, state your sympathy, and add anything personal you can. Just the act of writing the note shows you care and the bereaved need all the care they can get.


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 available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "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 StoreClick here to order.



Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Newtown graffiti

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