DSCN7919

Does Sending a Sympathy Card Really Matter?

Does sending a card of sympathy to someone who’s grieving really matter?

There was a time when I hesitated to send a sympathy card when I heard someone’s loved one or friend had passed away. Or maybe I should say it’s not so much that I hesitated to send one, it was more that I wondered if it would be helpful in any meaningful way. I tended to think such cards were completely inadequate and too trivial to make much of a difference during time of loss.

Even the words ‘sympathy card’ seemed ill-chosen to me. People who are grieving want compassion, understanding and empathy. I don’t think they’re really looking for sympathy.

After my mother’s death four years ago, naturally my family received a fair number of sympathy cards. Much to my surprise, I discovered looking at them and reading the words, especially the hand-written words, was very comforting. It really helped to know others acknowledged my loss, empathized with it and even shared in the loss with me.

Death is another one of those topics people struggle to deal with, so unfortunately the topic is often avoided altogether. When a loved one passes away, other people struggle with what to say and what to do. Awkwardness and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing too often keeps them from saying or doing anything at all.

One of the simplest things you can do for someone who is grieving is to send them a card or hand-written note. Don’t worry about searching and sending the perfect card with the perfect message. It doesn’t exist anyway.

If you do decide to go the Hallmark route, be sure to add at least a few of your own words. Take your condolences a step further and make them far more meaningful by making your comments very specific. For example, share a memory or something you will miss about the person who has passed away. Stating something you remember or admired about the person is a wonderful gesture. The more specific you can be the better. If you didn’t personally know the person, acknowledge how you empathize with the magnitude of the loss in some way. Simply stating that you care will always be enough.

Inside one particular sympathy card my family received four years ago was a tiny piece of paper with a prayer printed on it. For some reason that prayer meant a great deal to me and I found it to be wonderfully comforting. So don’t underestimate the power of poetry, a favorite quote, favorite photo, prayer or anything you find meaningful to include.

I don’t know exactly where this prayer came from or who wrote it, but it seems fitting to share it today as I remember my mom who passed away from metastatic breast cancer on March 6, 2008.

Prayer of Remembrance

In the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring; In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer; In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn; In the beginning of the year and when it ends: When we are weary and in the need of strength; When we are lost and sick at heart; When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them. So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

I’m remembering…

What’s something meaningful you received or that was done for you at a time of loss?

Do you send cards of sympathy?

41 thoughts on “Does Sending a Sympathy Card Really Matter?

  1. Nancy, what a lovely post. I agree that sympathy cards and a personal note are so meaningful, and continue to be years afterwards. I still read the cards I received after my father died back in 1999. And it’s not a morose thing, it’s just a way of remembering, and it feels comforting.
    Best to you and sending you gentle thoughts as you are remembering your mother.
    Sarah

  2. I just received the most lovely sympathy card from a family friend regarding the death of my brother. He took the time to write a long note about how I was loved and called me a champion. He also acknowledged how much it sucks to lose a sibling. It meant a lot to me.

    1. Tami, I’m so sorry you lost your brother recently. Losing a sibling is a whole different kind of loss isn’t it? I’m glad you find special meaning in words of comfort others have written for you. My best to you as you continue grieving and healing. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I had a boyfriend years ago that I almost married, so was very close to his family. Several years after we broke up, his father died suddenly. I was in such shock, and as a way to help myself process the death I wrote a letter to his mother, his sister and to my ex, expressing my sorrow but also sharing my favorite memories. His sister later told me it was one of the greatest gifts they received, and that she often re-read my letter to comfort herself.

    Now I always make sure to write not just my sympathies, but my memories of the departed when I am sending a condolence note.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic, Nancy! Sending notes and cards is a tender, touching and important expression of our caring.

    1. Renn, Thank you for sharing about this. It must be very heartwarming to know your compassionate note meant so much to your ex’s family. We just never know how important our acts of caring and kindness might be to others do we?

  4. Oh yes, it really does matter. I was incredibly touched by the cards I got after my Mom died. For someone to go to the trouble of going to the store and choosing just the right card for you and then writing something special and meaningful in this digital quick fix age really meant a lot to me.

    1. Marie, There is something extra special about someone taking the time to find the right card and/or write a thoughtful message isn’t there? You raise a good point about this digital age we live in. Even now, it’s the thoughtful gestures we make time to do for others that have the most meaning. There’s a good lesson in that. I’m glad you found comfort in those cards you received, Marie. Thank you for commenting.

  5. I always send out a sympathy card. I do buy the blank cards as some of the sayings are just plain silly. It is an acknowledgement that you remember the person. It’s funny because my late ex husband was an Officer in the CDN Forces When he died he was accorded a full military funeral Even though we had divorced we remained on great terms. I was very surprised at the number of sympathy cards I received from the other Officers & Wives and others in General. Remembering me as his wife. I was very touched by the gestures.I have my mothers cards and my grandparents, Just something to look back on.. Love Alli XX

    1. Alli, How lovely that you received those cards when your ex passed away. I’m sure you were very touched indeed. I agree, it is nice to save the cards so one can look back at them from time to time. It’s a way to remember and reminisce. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Absolutely. My mother and brother died when I was seven, and many years later I found the box of condolence notes my grandmother had saved in her attic. It was so consoling to read what people, many of whom I knew as an adult, had written to our family decades before.

    When my son died three years ago, the cards and notes we received meant the world to me — most especially those in which people shared specific memories of our son.

    Not only do I wrote condolence notes — in some cases, particularly where young people have died, I try to write again. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries of special occasions, haphazard dates — they are all hell for the grieving, who learn to keep silent and endure, and few people acknowledge them. Even a Hallmark card, with the sentence “I haven’t forgotten” written in, means a great deal.

    1. Robin, I’m very sorry for all of your losses. My goodness, you have had to deal with so many. I’m glad your grandmother saved those cards and that you found reading through them to be comforting all those years later. And the cards and notes you received when your son passed away must be simply priceless and a wonderful way to remember him. It sounds like you are very thoughtful about condolences you send, but then you have had so much heartache… you understand so well. Still, you are a very thoughtful person. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. I received so many cards after James died, and the ones with the personalized note, no matter what they said, meant a lot. Standing in the receiving line after his memorial service was special as well. Some people stood in line for two hours to share stories and remembrances of James. I wouldn’t have missed those for anything.

    XOXOXO,
    Brenda

    1. Brenda, I’m sure those cards and messages are very comforting to you. It must be wonderful to read those words, hear those stories and know how James was loved by so many others. It sounds like he made quite an impact on the lives of others. Thanks for sharing.

  8. The poem you quoted is by Gittelsohn, R. B. (1975). Gates of Prayer. London: Central Conference of American Rabbis

    and Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, p. 552.

    Thank you for sharing it again.

    1. Kathi, You’re right and as Marie also mentioned, in this digital age knowing people took time is extra special. Thanks for commenting.

  9. Nancy,

    You bring up some really excellent points here. I agree that any gesture, any way of acknowledging the grief is most of the time a good thing. I think that there’s always a flurry of sympathy cards right around the death, it’s nice to get cards or a handwritten note even months later.

    1. Beth, You make a wonderful point about that flurry that suddenly disappears. That’s why I don’t hesitate to send a card even when I know it’s late. In grief there is no late. Telling someone you care is always timely. Thanks for commenting, Beth.

  10. Hi Nancy, this is a great topic. I often wonder how people feel about sympathy cards. As you, the ones that mattered most to me were definitely those that shared something personal, although I remember one printed card that stood out, something about a new star in the night sky and I liked that image. I still have those cards, do you?

    Thanks for including the poem. So very true. I was touched by it. Love the photo of your mom. She looks so sweet. I’m sure she’s left a huge void. Hugs to you, my friend. xoxo

  11. I think they make a big difference. I only got a few sympathy cards when Grandma died, and they mattered a lot to me. I still have them. I try to send out cards to others. Sometimes it’s easy to think that our one card won’t really matter, but sometimes it just might be the only card someone receives. It can really make that person feel a bit better to know that someone cares.

    1. Lindsay, I didn’t even really know you received any. I’m glad you did. You’ll have to show them to me sometime. Thank you for sharing.

  12. They are VERY comforting, I agree! AND, there really is no “time limit” either….. I didn’t see this post until now. I DID see you wrote the post about your mom and chemobrained it…. I can’t imagine your sadness. I DO recall being a young mom in 1987 when MY mom was diagnosed and being in the grips of terror. My mom was fortunate. How poignant between friends that I just celebrated my mom’s b’day as you are celebrating the memory of your beautiful mom who was stolen from you by breast cancer. I send you my love as you mark such sadness— this doesn’t get easier. I think we just learn to cope a bit better. Sometimes. And sometimes, I still cry like a baby when I think about my dad.

    xoxox
    AnneMarie

    1. Ann Marie, What a lovely, lovely comment. Thank you so much. I’m glad your mom is still with you and that you celebrated her birthday recently. Sorry about your dad. You’re right, we learn to cope better. We have to. Thanks again.

  13. Nancy, I have nothing to add here that hasn’t already been said – but I just want to thank you for this post. You know how I feel about greeting cards (in fact will be posting a blog about some of my faves soon) – and people need to hear your message!
    Big hug,
    Lori
    http://www.lorihope.com/blog

  14. What a difficult day, Nancy. I’m sorry for the loss of your Mother and hope that in time, more happy memories return along with those of her death.

    I know what you mean about sending a note of condolence. I think a lot before I write them but remember how much they meant to me when my own mother died.

    Love never fails.

    Jody

    1. Jody, I’m not surprised to hear you put a lot of thought into the words you write even on a condolence card. That’s the kind of person/writer you are. Thanks for understanding and thanks for commenting. Love never fails. Nice.

  15. The anniversaries of our moms’ deaths are just so hard. I’m so glad you included the photo of your mom–and the poem is simply beautiful. I do send sympathy cards, because I know how much it meant to receive them when my mom died. The ones that contained handwritten notes and remembrances are so precious to me. I don’t re-read them often because it’s so painful, but I like knowing they are there. My kids in my son’s 3rd grade class each made a card for him when my mom died, and those scribbly illustrations and carefully printed letters are so sweet. Thanks for providing such great advice.

    1. Nancy, Thanks so much for sharing and for your kind words. I’m glad you have all those cards to look at when you want to. I can just picture all those wonderful hand-made third grade condolence cards. As an elementary teacher, I’ve had students make cards like that and it’s amazing the love and care that goes into them. Thanks for saying you enjoyed the poem and photo. Thanks for understanding.

  16. Nancy this is a lovely thoughtful piece, and one that resonated with me. I too have often felt wondered about the value of sympathy cards, but when my mother died last year we received hundreds of cards and letters from her friends, enough to fill three large scrapbooks. Reading and re-reading the words written with such love by people who we often didn’t even know who were also mourning her death made us realise how her life had touched so many others, and we learned so much about her through the memories and anecdotes that were written about.
    We had these books on display at her memorial service, and people there were touched to see their letters and cards as part of a collection that mum’s family will treasure always.
    Never underestimate the effect that taking a few minutes to write to a friend will have – it is a gossamer thread connecting you to them at a time when they may feel totally alone.

    Thank you for sharing this in tribute to your own mum – I hope yesterday was not too hard for you.

    1. Fran, Thank you so much for your beautiful comment. I’m really sorry about your loss. It sounds like your mother touched a lot of lives. How comforting that must continue to be. As you said, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of kind gestures such as sending a card or writing a few words. Something to remember for sure.

  17. Absolutely I send sympathy cards. There’s nothing like getting a handwritten note by snail mail. It shows someone lovingly took the time to make a personal touch. The most loving thing I remember is when my son, then only 12, came into my bedroom exactly a year after my mother died and comforted me during this first anniversary. I had no idea he would have the date emblazoned on his mind. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post! XXOO

    1. Jan, Thank you for sharing that touching memory about your son remembering the first anniversary of your mom’s passing. Kids continue to amaze us don’t they? I’m not surprised you send sympathy cards. You’re that kind of person.

  18. I had always thought cards and food brought over wasn’t even a drop in the bucket when someone was grieving and didn’t really mean much to the family, so often times I didn’t even do either. I also thought “everyone else” was probably firing off cards and bringing casseroles over by the truckload and mine and my presence wouldn’t make much of a difference.

    Then, only having thought I had suffered loss before, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. Finally, it dawned on me what TRUE grief was, how a simple thing like making a meal or going to the store was a daunting task, and how grateful I was when people brought food. The cards I received were a great comfort to me as well and the absence of cards from some was quite painful too.

    NEVER again will I NOT at least send a card and drop off a casserole or send a gift card for food if it’s too far to travel. It just means too much for those who are left behind to grieve not to do it and it takes so little time and effort to do just one small thing. I am ashamed I neglected to do these things in the past, but I will be doing these things in the future because I now know how it feels when people ignore a death in the family and WAY too many people do that and it’s hurtful.

    So, YES, by all means send a card and a chicken casserole or a bucket of chicken too would be very welcomed and appreciated.

    1. Kim, I used to wonder if sending the cards mattered too. After my mother died and I read through the ones we received, I finally realized more fully how very comforting doing that was. So yes, sending a sympathy card matters, sometimes much more than we’ll ever know. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  19. “Funny” this was your post today, rather your top grief one on your post. Our family received a card today from a guy that had gone to college with my brother. None of us knew him and were wondering at the time who it was that had sent the donation in his honor. We sent a thank you card and he wrote back a very nice letter which we received today that talked all about their time together in college and told funny stories. It was so fun and nice to hear the stories – I could almost see my brother throwing the laundry out the window (the laundry room was apparently right underneath their window). That and other fun stories that made me smile laugh and cry all at the same time. I have appreciated all the letters and cards from people. I know it is a hard time and people don’t know what to say but I feel not saying anything is worse. I have some friends I have been close with my whole life that still to date have not said a word to me, called or written and they know about my brother and our loss. Just kinda hurts but not about me or them right now. I guess they just don’t know what to say so they just don’t. I have appreciated all the cards and letters from everyone and agree with your comment that a handwritten note has lots of meaning to the family. It has been fun to hear about the stories and other people’s memories of him. It is not like reading them make me sad, I’m already sad. They do make me smile.

    1. Katherine, I’m so glad you commented to let me know your thoughts. It is really nice to share those personal stories isn’t it? I think people do often hesitate to say or do something for fear of causing more grief and more pain after a loss. And yes, sometimes we do experience a wide range of emotions, but there’s nothing wrong with feeling a mixture of happiness and sadness. Smiles mixed in with the grief are a blessing. Thanks again for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>