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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 died. 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 from metastatic breast cancer, 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 dies, 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. And that’s too bad.

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 for and sending the perfect card with the perfect message. It doesn’t exist anyway.

If you 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 more meaningful by making your comments very specific.

For example, share a memory or something you will miss about the person who has died. 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 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 died from metastatic breast cancer on March 6, 2008.

Does sending a sympathy card really matter? #grief #bereavement

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.

And yes, sending a sympathy card does matter. Sometimes more than we might ever realize.

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

Do you send sympathy cards?

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Does sending a sympathy card really matter? #grief #loss #sympathy #family

Sarah

Friday 16th of October 2020

There's a similar poem that they read every ANZAC Day (Remembrance Day) about young soldiers. It's an excerpt from For The Fallen by Robert Laurence Benin

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/classroom/war-and-remembrance/they-shall-not-grow-old

Linda

Wednesday 27th of May 2020

I love sending - and receiving - cards. Two years ago no one sent me a card on Mother's Day. We were all reeling from my Stage 4 diagnosis, so I sort of forgave my kids and my husband - and then I exploded. My daughter tells me that no one in her generation likes or sends cards. Glad I'm not in that generation! Send me a card for anything and I'm in love! My mother kept ALL her cards for years. We had to throw them away when she died, but it told me that cards are comforting, important for the soul. Any little excuse and I send them. I hope you are well.

Nancy

Thursday 28th of May 2020

Linda, I remember you commenting earlier about how much you love cards. I think they are somewhat of a generational thing, although my daughter sends them sometimes. My kids don't generally leave voice mails either. The thing I've noticed about cards is that it seems it's harder to find ones I like. And what's up with so many cards having that loose paper insert thing that's not glued down on one side? And it's harder to find ones that say what I want too. But I enjoy getting them and sending them too, when I can find ones I like. I do not keep mine though. I keep too much other stuff!

Julia

Wednesday 27th of May 2020

Having lost my mother when I was young and my dad just a few years ago, I've seen the impact of all expressions of condolence - and of the failure to acknowledge the event as well.

When my father died I received many cards but found that opening them was painful - it seemed to make his death real in some way. However, just seeing them arrive and seeing that expression of support and love was very consoling. As the weeks went by, I opened a few at a time and read them with deep appreciation and found ongoing comfort in them.

I always write, even if it is delayed. And I write again, maybe to the family on the anniversary of the death, or on a wedding anniversary or birthday, even just to let someone know they are being thought of. Finding the right words is sometimes challenging but well worthwhile and the time involved is far less than most people spend in a single day on social media once you sit down and do it. But then, I'm old fashioned; I still send written thank you notes and birthday cards. We have to do our bit to keep the USPS in business, right?

Nancy

Thursday 28th of May 2020

Julia, I know what you mean about opening those cards being painful. Having others acknowledge the death does make it more real. At the same time, reading them can be so comforting, especially when a few extra moments were taken to write something personal. That is so kind of you to write and then write again. I'm sure your written notes are treasures for those receiving them. And yes, we gotta keep the USPS going! Great to hear from you. Thank you for taking time to comment. Hope you're safe and well.

Barbara Lee

Sunday 17th of November 2019

Amazing that something you wrote in 2012 can still be found and is relevant today in 2019! Having lost my mother in 2011 I can say that I did draw comfort from the sympathy cards that were sent. My beloved brother-in-law died recently and I found peace in your posting of the prayer, so much so that I looked it up. It's titled "We Remember Them" and it's written by Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer. Here's the original version. We Remember Them At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them. At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them. At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them. At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them. At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them. At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them. As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them. When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them. When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them. When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them. When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them. For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this beautiful Jewish poem.

Nancy

Friday 22nd of November 2019

Barbara, When my mother and later when my father died, I found reading sympathy cards to be quite comforting, and I was surprised by that. Why I was surprised, I do not know. I'm sorry to hear your brother-in-law recently died, and I'm so glad you found the prayer I shared comforting. Thank you for providing more details about it and for sharing about two of your dear ones.

Carolyn Thomas

Tuesday 19th of March 2019

Thanks so much Nancy for reposting this article so I could find it today. YES, it matters when people in your life take the time to send a sympathy card. And the most thoughtful of sympathy gestures is to actually receive a card. In the mail. The kind with a stamp on the envelope, a card that somebody has actually taken the time to purchase (or make), sign, add a personal note, and then walk it to a real mailbox. But I often fear those days are at death's door themselves.

When my lovely daughter-in-law's Dad died several years ago, she told me how "thoughtful" it was to have 100+ messages of condolence on her Facebook page.

PEOPLE! This is NOT "thoughtful". This is merely typing "Sorry for your loss" and hitting a 'send' button. It takes zero thoughtfulness or time or effort or caring to do this perfunctory task.

We live in a time when texting is considered adequate communication even for life's most emotional or traumatic experiences, when adding a little emoticon is considered even DEEPER communication, when the common courtesies and gestures of kindness that we grew up with have been dismissed and ignored because it takes TIME to do these things compared to just pulling out one's phone - as if our parents and grandparents didn't have just as many (or more!) time constraints as we do now.

Personally, I mourn the loss of humanity and consideration in an age when going through a little trouble when somebody we care about has suffered a loss is just too MUCH trouble to go through.

hugs, C.

PS I have to add that the sympathy cards I loved the most after my Mum's death were those that contained a little message with a favourite memory or funny story about my mother. I even received a card in the mail from somebody I'd never met, who explained in her card that she'd been a regular customer at my parent's roadside fruit market every summer for decades, and had always loved chatting with my Mum over the strawberries and peaches. I'll never forget how much that small and totally unexpected note meant to our family!

Nancy

Wednesday 20th of March 2019

Carolyn, Thank you so much for reading and taking time to comment on this older, but still relevant post. Can I just say, I love how you don't mince words. "PEOPLE! This is NOT “thoughtful”. This is merely typing “Sorry for your loss” and hitting a ‘send’ button. It takes zero thoughtfulness or time or effort or caring to do this perfunctory task." Love that. And I agree. Your story about the sympathy card you received following your mum's death is just lovely. Thank you for sharing that too. More proof that a little time taken to write a few words yourself just might mean the world to the person reading them. x

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