Sunday, June 14, 2009

What to say...

My sister and I just heard that an old family friend had died. We bought a condolence card, and were faced with the dilemma of what to write. How to express our sympathy and offer encouragement in the saddest of times? Just by chance, I came across a short article I'd written on the topic. It helped me, so thought I'd share it...

Composing Tough-to-write Sympathy Notes...
When a friend experiences a significant loss--a loved one dies, she miscarries, she gets divorced, she gets sick, she loses her job--what do you say to her? How do you let your friend know you care without being patronizing, unintentionally insensitive (by saying too little) or offering cliches? According to Rosalie Maggio, author of Great Letters for Every Occasion, you walk a fine line, but the biggest mistake is ignoring the loss. In situations where someone has died or been the victim of a big misfortune (a fire, flood, burglary, violent crime, job loss, a miscarriage), not sending a letter is worse than sending a misguided one, she says.

Here, some tips on WHAT TO DO:
Acknowledge the loss and mention the deceased person by name (or specify the misfortune). Recipients are already in pain and they don’t want that to be ignored, says Maggio.

Express your feelings of grief, dismay and loss in an honest and clear manner. Don’t use euphemisms such as “left this life,” “the dear departed” or “gone to a better life.” Instead, write “died” or “miscarried.”
Be brief. “A lengthy letter can be overwhelming in a time of grief,” she says.
Mention what you particularly liked about the deceased.

End with a general expression of concern or affection, such as “you are in my thoughts.”

Don't go overboard in expressing how you feel about the loss—saying “I was devastated. I start crying every time I think of him.”
Don’t use overly dramatic language (“the worst tragedy I ever heard of”).

Don’t use well-meaning but hurtful clich├ęs, false cheerfulness and optimistic platitudes.

Don’t discuss your religious views or philosophy of death or loss unless you know the recipient shares your views.

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