If you knew that my first experience with a close loved one’s death was a traumatic experience in that I was one of the people to find my brother after his suicide (when I was nineteen), it may not surprise you that I haven’t always dealt with the loss of other people’s loved ones in the best of manners. Quite honestly, I would do anything to avoid a funeral home and a casket (open or closed) for many, many years. In fact, it was (and sometimes still is) hard to talk to others about their loss but I have always thought the best route was to send a condolence card. And now Facebook seems to be the place others go to express their thoughts and prayers.
That said, I have a pretty hefty stack of unsent sympathy cards. I was utterly shocked when just a couple days after my mom’s death, the condolence cards started streaming in and did so regularly for about a week. I, on the other hand, would put the task of buying a sympathy card on my mental to-do list and it would take approximately two or three weeks until everything aligned and I remembered to buy said card while I was in the pharmacy or grocery store. I would have to read every card until I found the right sentiment (this could be a lengthy process!) and then would get home, put the card on the counter and by the time I located a stamp, it would end up going missing for another couple of weeks or so.
By the time I found the card, I would feel great sadness that I had left sending it too late and would tuck the card in a drawer so that I’d have it handy for the next occasion. Of course, the cards were highly targeted so if the person who lost their mother did not get the card, it would do no good for the friend who lost their father. Repeat this scenario many times over and you will understand that I could probably open my own sympathy card store at this point. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about expressing my condolences to my friends and family and even though I don’t like the Facebook method, I utilize it in case that ends up being my only expression of sympathy.
The other thing that catches me up regarding sympathy cards is expressing a few handwritten thoughts inside the card. I always want to say something incredibly profound or at least jot a few lines about the person who died. This happened when I lost my boss a few years ago. This woman meant so much to me. She was a kindred spirit in the field I was in and through the four years I worked for her, we spent countless hours together talking about everything from her family, my family, hobbies, and of course, work. By the time she died, I think I knew more about her family than any other co-worker I had previously worked with, even though I had never met them. I attended her wake and was presented with all these hurting family members who I knew so well and because the line was long, I could only say a few brief words to each. I felt it was important to send them a card of sympathy to express how much she meant to me but I struggled with the words. I never ended up sending that card and I will always regret it (I don’t know how to reach them anymore as her husband moved away).
What I learned from that experience is the words you say, as long as they are sincere, are not as important as sending the card. Put a stamp on it. Mail it. Last week a friend lost her dad and today I sent the card with my sincere condolences. Somewhere in this house that I’m working hard to de-clutter, sits a stack of unsent cards that I’m ready to use.