How to write a sympathy note

By Elizabeth Cottrell – info@nvdaily.com

We hate to think about death.

I want to shine a spotlight on those notes we write to friends, acquaintances, and loved ones who have lost someone dear to them.

We ache for them and want desperately to comfort them and relieve their pain. We know how much notes and cards have meant to us when we are the ones suffering. So why do we feel such anxiety about writing sympathy notes?

Stop the running tape in your mind.

In my Facebook Group, “Revive the Art of Personal Note-writing,” many of the members shared thoughts that prevented them from writing a sympathy note:

  • What on earth can I say when I feel helpless in the face of their loss?
  • What good can my note really do?
  • They’re so upset, they won’t remember who sent them a note.
  • I didn’t know the deceased; I don’t have anything to say.
  • It upsets me to think about the pain they’re in.

Writing a note is not about crafting a literary masterpiece. It’s about reaching out and giving that person a hug by mail, regardless of the words you use. I often hear back from people to whom I’ve written that my note was saved and read later, when they could appreciate it in a less emotional time.

Get over your insecurities and send that hug.

Before you write

1. Take a moment before you start:

  • Visualize the recipient.
  • Put yourself in their place and try to imagine what might comfort them.
  • Lift them up in prayer.
  • Ask God to guide you to the right words of comfort.

It’s completely OK to start honestly: “Words are simply inadequate to express all that is on my heart after learning of John’s death, but I had to let you know how much I’m thinking of you.”

2. Assure them their loved one won’t be forgotten.

One of the devastating things about losing a loved one is the idea they will be forgotten, so anecdotes and stories about them can be immensely comforting. Include happy memories of the deceased whenever possible. Did they help you in some way? Were they part of a happy event in your life? Were they funny or thoughtful or hard-working? Be specific.

My friend Anne Goodrich shared these impressions about the difference notes made in her life:

My father died when I was young. One note that was so precious to me was from another young person who also loved my dad. She wrote about the small things she remembered about my father, like how he could perch his glasses in the middle of his forehead when he wasn’t using them, and how she marveled at the way he could read a paperback book and never crease the spine … no matter how brief, I treasured each note I was sent.

If you don’t have your own memories, have you heard a story worth sharing about the deceased? Let the recipient know their loved one made a difference and they will be missed.

As long as anyone remembers, they’re not gone.

My neighbor and friend Esther Hastings Miller shared a fascinating insight:

Some Asian cultures have two different concepts of death. One is the death of the body, the other the death of those who remember that person. As long as there is anyone alive who remembers them, they are not really gone. A few years ago, I went to a reunion of the church I’d grown up in, and one woman told me how much my mother had influenced her formative years. Here was a total stranger with so much of my mother still a living part of her!

We need to share that with friends who are facing loss and let them know that as long as we live, their loved one will live on.

And we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about that person. It isn’t going to “stir up painful memories;” it will give comfort to know that their loved one is in someone else’s thoughts too.

When you didn’t know the deceased, your goal is to let the recipient know you are sharing their loss and holding them gently in your heart, lifting them up for healing, comfort, and peace. When we’re in pain, it helps knowing someone else understands.

Your note will certainly be appreciated. It may well do much more to comfort and heal a grieving heart. It’s always worth the effort.

Elizabeth H. Cottrell of Maurertown is a desktop publisher, freelance writer, blogger, and author at Heartspoken.com and RiverwoodWriter.com. If you missed her article last month on the art of note writing, go to: http://www.nvdaily.com/lifestyle/2012/05/lets-revive-the-lost-art-of-note-writing.php.