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 fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


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

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Comment by Dot Hauser on March 13, 2011 at 6:01pm
It is very important to my family and me that people acknowledge my sons passing.  He will be gone 4 years tomorrow the 14th.  It gives us comfort to know he made an impact on others lives and that he will never be forgotten.  The most difficult part of losing a loved one is when people pretend it never happened and never mention my son or allow me to say anything about him.  It is important to keep his memory alive.  Yes, at times it makes me cry, but more often it makes me laugh and it makes me feel good to share memories with family and friends.
Comment by Dolores VanStory on March 5, 2011 at 7:33pm

My brother Leonard Coller passed on the 19th of February and he is sorely missed. He was a wonderful brother, father, grandfather and uncle. All of the family miss him. He was raised here in Pittsburgh, but died in Florida. I would like all of his friends to know about his passing.

Comment by River of Tears on February 3, 2011 at 4:15am

The anniversary of our Mothers death just recently passed she was a beautiful loving blessing to all of us .  I used to be able to talk about her only with one other in life which was my Sister who also loved her so much though sadly she just passed away a few months ago .  A part of me tells myself that at least they are together again , yet that part of me that misses them so much has so much pain .  So the anniversary of not only my Mother and my Sister and Father all hold now a different place in my heart . Painful as it will always be and as empty as my life will feel with out them , just knowing that they are now together so to hold each other close eases what ever pain I may feel .   I still fear I will look at the calender or will not even have to for leaving each day with out them seems to be an anniversary in itself as though it is another day with out them .   One day it  may be that this pain will be eased and the dates will not have such hold on my memories as they have . Though I know the love I have for them then and now and for ever will be always and forever that will never end .  Hoping to do something special maybe someday for all of them to honor not only the life they lived but the love they so generously so wanted so give .         


 Please take care  comfort to all of you ,

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