People express concern in finding the right words to write a truly appropriate condolence note. But it's not your mastery with words that's important; what are truly special are messages that come directly from your heart.
When someone dies, the bereaved are left with their memories. You can add to those memories by sharing your personal thoughts, anecdotes, shared experiences, and remembrances of the deceased. In doing so, you are giving the bereaved a priceless gift.
In the years since my mother died, I’ve often thought about the sympathy letters that truly brought me comfort. These are some of the qualities that made these messages memorable.
1. The memories of our loved ones are very personal so it's wonderful to hear someone else's perspective of our loved one. One friend shared, "I loved speaking with your mom. Many from her generation tell the same stories over and over again. But your mom had so many interests and travels, I loved to visit with her."
2. It can be insightful to hear how others viewed your loved one. My cousin shared, "I always thought it must have been so much fun growing up in your family. You always seemed to be such an active and involved bunch. I can only imagine what a great teacher your mom must have been because she had such a keen interest in so many things."
3. It isn’t possible to know everything about our loved one. My mother’s friends shared personal stories that showed me other facets of her life. One wrote, “Your mother and I shared a cottage that difficult summer we were co-directors at the camp. It bonded us and it was that experience that forged our unique relationship.”
4. A friend made me feel better for feeling so bad. She shared, "It is always difficult to lose your mom, no matter what your age."
5. And someone from my book club who was not an intimate truly touched my heart when she referred to my mom as "Your dear mother."
Robbie Miller Kaplan is the author of How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss. Now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities" and "Divorce."