When my mother passed away, I received a card from a friend of mine that touched me so much that I still remember it 15 years later. The card was humorous and the note he wrote was the perfect balance of empathy, humor and reality. You see, Chris had lost his father about a month before I lost my mother and he knew intimately what I was going through. This card was the cornerstone for developing the website. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to encourage people to be considerate and supportive of their friends and family when they are experiencing a great loss. The subject of death is difficult and many people “freeze” when the subject is brought up. Our website is dedicated to helping people find words when they don’t know what to say.
Put your heart into it. There are many ways to express your deep concern and support to a friend or family member when you have lost a loved one. I have found that when you put your heart into what you write, it makes all the difference. One of the cards I received simply said, “I just wanted you to know that I’ve been thinking of you all week and will keep you in my prayers.” It was from the mother of a friend I didn’t know very well, but she touched me so much that she took the time to send a card. I could feel the love and sincerity in the note and it left a lasting impression on me.
Know your audience. People have many belief systems when it comes to death, mourning, and the burial process. Religion, culture, family experiences, personality, the person’s age and gender can all affect how they handle the grieving process. It is important to take these factors into account and not diminish the person’s feelings or beliefs. This is not a time to “preach” to someone. It is a time to reach out and open your heart.
Offer your support. The most fundamental thing you can offer someone in a grievance is your support. My friend Michele sent me this note after my mom passed: “We’ll be there to do those things you can’t” and she really was. She helped make phone calls to my family the night my mother passed away, she was present at the memorial service, and she was there through all the ups and downs as I recovered from this great loss.
I have found that most people appreciate knowing that you care about them and that you are there to support them. A simple note of encouragement like this can make all the difference: “Please know that I am ready to help in any way you may need during this difficult time. I would love to bring dinner to your family or take you out for coffee if any you need to talk.”
My old roommate used to send me cards on my mom’s birthday to remind me that she was thinking of me. My aunt sends her sister-in-law a card on the anniversary of her son’s death just to let her know that she’s not alone.
I am deeply grateful for all the love and encouragement I have received from my friends and family through the many losses in my life. My greatest hope is that everyone receives that kind of deep support when they are going through a loss.