When my mother began a phone conversation with “I have some sad news,” I knew what would follow. She would share news that a friend or loved one had died. Not that long ago, it was common to hear about a death in person or by phone. A letter or note was another way to notify us that someone we knew had passed away.
That’s what happened to me last week. I received a personal note in the mail; that alone was unusual since almost all my interactions are by email or text. The note was from my mother’s 92-year old cousin. It said, “I hope you and the children are in good health and doing nicely.” I was surprised to read further, “I have to inform you that our Thomas died of cancer on Oct. 1, 2013.” She went on to comfort me, acknowledging how hard it is to receive this information but knowing I would want to know. She didn’t want me to worry so she shared that she and my cousin’s widow were in good spirits and they both sent their love.
The note struck me in many ways. It was very sad to hear the news even though Thomas and I had not been a part of each other’s lives since we were children. But it was more than that; the note harkened back to a time when there was a code of etiquette and there was a proper way to do everything.
I miss those times, especially when I learn of a friend’s death by email or a loss in a friend’s life via Facebook. I am so uncomfortable posting a condolence message on someone’s wall. I’m not comfortable about sending a sympathy email either. I believe in the old-fashioned way of expressing my sadness in a handwritten note. I’m not alone in this but I see the bereaved find great comfort in an immediate response via technology and a sympathy note takes time to compose and send through the U.S. Postal Service.
So what can you do when there is a death and you need to let lots of people know? If you are not up to the task, see if a family member will help. If you have no family member, ask a friend or neighbor, or even enlist a colleague. People often don’t know how to help during difficult times and may be glad to be asked. If all else fails you do have technology. During difficult times, use whatever device is most comfortable.
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 e-book and print for "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage" and 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 Store. Click here to order.
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