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Illness & Death
Illness & Death

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“Life presents us with challenging situations and when a friend, colleague, student--indeed, even a stranger--is forced to deal with grief, it’s important to say the right thing and feel confident your words bring comfort and solace. Kaplan reminds us that we're touched by grief every day and the first step to recovery is positive communication. We love the series. Thanks again. “

Karen Marsh, Librarian, Glenforest Secondary School, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Sympathy Notes
Timing your sympathy notes
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When we learn there’s a death, we think it’s essential to respond immediately. Some folks rise to the occasion and quickly craft a heartfelt message. But if you need some time to do the job justice, take it. The bereaved get most attention in the early days and weeks, while they’re in shock and processing the loss, and most likely won’t remember much. It’s in the weeks and months ahead, when mourning takes place, that they might most appreciate a condolence note from you. Here are five strategies for preparing notes of sympathy:

  1. Wait a day, a week, or a few weeks to digest the news and collect your thoughts before writing your note.
  2. Don’t do it all in one sitting.
  3. Draft your note first then edit, revise, and proof before writing your final note.
  4. Allow the note to sit for a day before mailing. Re-read it to ensure it reflects the true message you would like to convey.
  5. Include your address on the envelop to make it easy for the recipient to reach you, should they desire.

Image via stock.xchng / benkersey

Ten ways to close a sympathy note
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While it’s a challenge to write a heartfelt condolence note that conveys your sympathy, it can be even tougher trying to figure out a meaningful close. Here are ten ideas:

  1. May love and your beautiful memories sustain you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
  2. I, too, will remember your father with much affection.
  3. I don’t have much wisdom to share. I just want you to know that you are thought of and cared for. Be kind to yourself and give your dear husband and children a hug from me.
  4. May your beautiful memories bring you peace and comfort.
  5. Please accept my deepest sympathy on your loss. You are in my heart and prayers.
  6. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time.
  7. You and your dear family have my sincere condolences.
  8. We are thinking of you constantly. May your daughter’s memory forever be a blessing.
  9. We hope that knowing that our love and thoughts are with you will give you some comfort in the days and months ahead.
  10. May your fondest memories of him comfort you always.
How to Write a Sympathy Note When You Never Met the Deceased
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It happens all the time. Someone we know has a death in the family. A friend’s mother dies or a colleague’s son is killed in a car accident. The loss touches you, but you have never met the deceased. You know it’s important to reach out to the bereaved and extend comfort, but how do you write a condolence note for someone you don’t know?

When someone dies, all the bereaved have left are their memories. Sympathy notes that express your condolences bring needed comfort to the bereaved. The most meaningful ones include your thoughts, personal memories, and if possible, a treasured story. Photographs are especially appreciated.

You do need to dig a little deeper to write a meaningful note of sympathy for someone you don’t know. Here is an example of a condolence letter you might write to a friend on the death of a parent you have never met.

Dear Peter,

I was so sorry to hear about the death of your father. I’m sure your dad had a hand in modeling behaviors that shaped the special person you are – your wonderful medical skills, compassion, and patience. And your keen sense of humor. You have shared lots of stories about your family and I’m hoping that the good memories will be a comfort to you while you grieve this loss. Know that I’m keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

Much love to you and Melissa.


Let Your Sympathy Note Tell a Story
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Content ImageEveryone has a story. The friend that brought you soup when you had the flu, the co-worker who tried to help dry your shoes by putting them in the microwave, or the neighbor that attempted to push your car when it was stuck in the snow and got his car stuck too. We all know funny, charming, and caring tales about friends and loved ones and when it is time to write a sympathy note, it's these stories that are most appreciated.

Before you write a sympathy card, take the time to reflect on your memories and jot down some stories that illustrate the unique qualities of the deceased. You can begin your note by expressing your sadness. Then follow with your remembrances, sharing your favorite stories.

While it’s caring to express your condolences, it’s the memories of a loved one that bring solace to the bereaved. When someone dies, all we have left are memories and it's these shared experiences that are sure to bring some warmth during a difficult time.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/BiblioArchives - Library Archives

New thoughts on Facebook and condolences
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My dearest friend died last week. Even though she had a Facebook page, she did not use it; her husband did. After her death her husband posted a memorial for her and several friends followed. I read their posts and they were comforting, especially those with photos from different eras.

If you're a reader of my blog, you already know that I am not a fan of Facebook condolences. And so I faced a dilemma. Many of my friends and family members knew my dear friend and I wanted to share the news of her death and yet I was not up to phone calls. So I did what everyone does when they want to spread the word; I wrote a Facebook post.

I took the time to write and edit my tribute in Word and then I posted it with a wonderful photo of my friend and myself. It did the trick in getting the word out and amazingly, it comforted me. I must have read the post numerous times as I was processing the news of her sudden and unexpected death. And I hope that it will comfort my friend's beloved spouse and precious daughters.

Have I changed my mind on Facebook and death? Yes and no; I doubt I will stop writing sympathy notes and condolence messages on Facebook will never be a substitute for written condolence messages. But, I will participate in paying tribute on Facebook to those we love and lose.

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