Expressing sympathy when a friend or a colleague has lost a loved one seems to be difficult for many people. What should I say? Should I go to the service? If I go to the wake how long should I stay? What is the appropriate time frame to send a sympathy card? It is easy to be caught up in an internal struggle of how we should act on these occasions. We can give advice to others on all these questions but the simplest answer is, do what feels right. The simple fact that you care will be comforting to anyone.
The time frame for sending a sympathy card should be dictated by when you found out about the person’s loss. If you heard right away, say when a colleague at work is out for a death in the family, the appropriate time would be within one to two weeks. Your colleague will be most likely be back to work in that time and you don’t want the card to appear to be an afterthought as if you finally could find the time to write the card out. When you decide to send a card you should send it as close as possible to the time of loss so the person can feel this is a genuine expression of sympathy. It is also appropriate to bring a card if you are attending the wake, however, sending it a few days later is considered a good time frame.
The only time sending a sympathy card after the two week period, would be if you had just found out about the person’s loss. Sometimes we have friends who live a distance away and you may not have found out until several weeks or months later. It is then appropriate to send a sympathy card with a personal note saying you have just heard about their loss.
Many times we just don’t want to do the wrong thing and so we do nothing. It is always better to take a positive step to sincerely express your compassion and concern. People will accept any attempt a friend takes to comfort them with an open heart. Taking the step is what is most appreciated.
When a co-worker loses a loved one, even the most confident among us sometimes find it a challenge to know the right thing to say. The obvious and most practical thing to do when dealing with a death in the office is to send thoughtful sympathy cards with a personal note included. But who among us has not stared at a card, pen in hand, wondering what would be appropriate? It is admirable to want to comfort someone, but the co-worker relationship has to be considered. It is appropriate to express your feelings to your co-worker by recognizing that the person is suffering. Statements like “I’m sorry for your loss” or “My thoughts are with you and your family at this time” show them that you care.
Don’t avoid a colleague who is grieving simply because you don’t know what to say. Honesty is the best policy in this situation. You can simply say, “I just don’t know what to say, but I am sorry for your loss.” Again, a tasteful sympathy card can come to your rescue if speaking directly to someone about this topic has you stumped. Conversely, offering too much info or advice can overwhelm a co-worker who is coping with a difficult situation. For example, relating about how your grandfather suffered in his final days would not be helpful. In short, an honest, simple response is often the best approach.
Nobody enjoys composing sympathy cards. It means that someone has died. Someone we care about is hurting. Instead of listing all the ways we could possibly console our dear friend or family member, let’s take a look at what not to say. Sometimes words just pour out of our mouth or pen, that do not diminish the pain someone is feeling. It adds to it. It’s human nature to want to comfort someone, but more often than you think, people make these oversights. Here are a few taboos that we unfortunately have a lapse in our brains and do.
1. Avoid electronic greetings at all costs! You may think it is appropriate to send corporate sympathy cards to say maybe Bob in the cubicle a few rows down, but it is in bad taste. A handwritten card is always the way to go.
2. Do not attempt humor! We instinctively want to cheer people up but maybe save that for a night out with the boys. What you may find to be a funny story may not be the right time for someone who is grieving.
3. Do not rehash the tragedy! Nobody wants to recall all the horrid details about the deceased. Especially if it was tragic and messy. Instead talk about the good memories of that loved one.
4. Don’t compare! “I know someone who”…Enter a tragic story here. This person is in the worst pain imaginable and they don’t want to hear about how someone died worse than your beloved.
5. DO NOT BRING UP DEBTS! Just because Rachael borrowed $100 bucks for that killer outfit does not mean her relatives have to pay for it. Let it go.
A few more sentences you may not want to throw out there are the clichéd “I know how you feel”. You don’t know how they feel. “At least he or she lived a good life”. “He or she is in a better place”. No, to the grieving person they should be here. “It will get easier”, “It was God’s will” and the classic “I know something good will come of this”. Can you predict the future? Many people may question their faith at the loss of a loved one. You will truly never know how someone may interpret these phrases. Give them a break people and keep it simple. Offer a sympathy card with words from the heart, your friendship and time.
For obvious reasons, no one likes to send sympathy cards. But they are needed, as they help bring comfort to the bereaved and also enable you to express and share your grief. Knowing the right things to say and do can be difficult. Here are some tips for sending sympathy cards.
Writing the Sympathy Cards
• Opt for a black or blue pen. Do not use colorful pens.
• If you’re not sure what to say, keep it simple. Messages such as “I am sorry for your loss.” and “My thoughts and prayers are with you.” are always appropriate.
• Avoid saying things like “He is in a better place.” or “Time heals all wounds.” Hearing trite clichés like this might be painful for the family.
• Be heartfelt and respectful.
• If you knew the deceased well, you can include a memory or acknowledge how much the person meant to you.
• Be sure to include your last name when signing the card.
When and How to Give the Sympathy Cards
• If you are attending the wake or funeral, you can give the card to the family at that time. The funeral home usually has a dedicated holder for everyone to place their cards.
• If sending the card via mail, write the mailing and return addresses by hand to make the envelope more personal.
• Some people are able to visit the bereaved in person and like to bring flowers or food to help the family during this difficult time. Sympathy cards can accompany these gifts.
• The sooner the better, so your card reaches the person grieving when needed most. However, it is never too late to share your condolences.
Types of Sympathy Cards and Thinking of You Cards
• A nice touch would be to select a design that honors the deceased. For example, if she loved going to the beach, an elegant card with seashells or peaceful ocean scene would be appropriate.
• If the deceased or the family is religious, a card with that theme would be well-received.
• “Thinking of You” cards can be considered instead of traditional sympathy cards. These designs and sentiments are just as appropriate.
Sending sympathy cards is not the most pleasant task, as we all know. It is however, a part of life. Our logical minds tell us that but our hearts aren’t as easily convinced. Just conveying condolences can be stressful. We are never quite sure what to say. We don’t want to upset anyone. If you are like me, just the thought can bring on the waterworks. What if we send the wrong type of card or say the wrong thing? Sometimes this means we may do nothing at all.
As one that has been on both ends as a sender and a receiver, way too many times I might add, I can vouch for the value of sympathy cards. After losing my daughter several years ago I received many, many sympathy cards. Every single one was so greatly appreciated. I placed all of them in a plastic container. Once in awhile, I would pull them out and read them. It was so comforting to read all of the kind words. Some were just simply signed, while others had handwritten notes. It didn’t matter. Each one was a great source of comfort. I still have that little plastic container with the cards.
At work corporate sympathy cards come into play. Over the last few years I have lost a few more family members. Each time I was sent a sympathy card be my employer, as well as my co-workers. These too were treasured more than words could ever say.
Whether you’re a business or sending out personally, consider keeping a supply of sympathy cards on hand. Choose a couple or order an assortment box of cards. Include a few words if you like or just sign your name. It doesn’t matter if it is simply signed or includes words of remembrance. The receiver will be eternally grateful.
Some people are born with the gift of bringing comfort to those in need; most of us must depend on sympathy cards. Many of us use the clichés that seem to be appropriate, but don’t require any real thought. We are often afraid to say something too personal or too spiritual, thereby making the recipient uneasy.
For the giver of the sentiment, it is important to evoke a “thinking of you” concept to the person who receives the card. That is really what sympathy cards are all about. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a sympathy card will most likely say that the gesture itself is an act of consolation that is much appreciated.
The card that one selects should be representative of the beliefs of the recipient, not the sender. If there is no way to know what those beliefs are, it is best to rely on the “thinking of you” concept. Of course, the design of the card should also be given some consideration. For instance, if you knew the person well, and they had a passion for a certain type of art or color or flower, etc. you should look for something reflective of that interest. When choosing a card for someone that you don’t know quite as well, it is best to choose a card that will be simple yet elegant.
The bottom line is that whether sending a sympathy card or a thinking of you card, the act of sending one that you have thought about reflects your sincerity.
I am one of the fortunate people who have a wonderful relationship with my mother that I cherish. We do many things together; shop, travel and I even joined a few of the many clubs that she belongs to. Now mom is a very spry 78 years old. She has more energy than I do and I have trouble keeping up with her. Becoming a member of her clubs and meeting her friends has been rewarding but sometimes sad. Now remember that I told you how old mom is. Well, many of her friends are the same age or much older than she. I have become quite friendly with many of these people. The unfortunate part of this scenario is that quite of few have passed away. I have told mom, jokingly of course, that she needs to get much younger friends! Thank goodness that I purchased boxed sympathy cards from the Gallery Collection for her and for myself.
It is such a good idea to have sympathy cards readily available. You never know when you will need one. When you are upset and sad you really don’t want to have to go to a store and buy one. The Gallery Collection cards are beautiful, have great quality and have the perfect sentiment inside.
Pets are more than an animal that lives with you. When you accept a pet into your home, you make them a part of your family. The love and care given to a pet is often very much like the way you would treat a child. They become an integral part of your daily life. Suffering the loss of a pet is losing a member of your family. Sympathy cards sent to a friend for the loss of their pet is not only appropriate, it is a sign that you are aware of how much they are suffering.
Pet sympathy cards should carry a message of sympathy, caring and friendship. It is always nice to mention the pet’s name, such as: “I know that Duke was a great companion. Please accept my sympathy.” You should avoid any mention of getting a new pet to replace their loss as they probably will not be ready to think about replacing a loved one that soon.
The loss of a pet is often accompanied by depression and can cause the pet owner a great deal of pain. Once you’ve sent that sympathy card, remember to call or visit and encourage your friend or family member to talk about their loss, memories and love of their pet. You can be sure that all kindness will be gratefully received and remembered.