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Tips For Writing Handwritten Condolence Notes
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, October 2012

Recently someone shared with me her disappointment and distress when, after her father died, she did not receive even ONE handwritten condolence note. Although friends and business associates acknowledged this profound loss through texting, instant messaging, and emails, (and she did receive a few "signed" sympathy greeting cards), she wondered why she still felt bereft of the support and comfort from people in her friendship circle.

Her displeasure was compounded as she recalled the number of personal, handwritten notes that, over the years, she had thoughtfully composed and sent to her colleagues and friends upon learning that someone close to them had died. It is certainly true that for some mourners, just knowing that they are in a friend's thoughts can be "enough." For others though, the grieving process is "enriched" when family, friends and associates reach out in a personal way, writing in their own hand, sharing stories or memories of the person who passed away.

Sometimes, people feel awkward or at a loss for what to say in person, so expressing sympathy in a personal note can offer a bit of distance along with a chance to think about what might be comforting words. Reaching out to a grieving person is a true act of kindness, compassion, love and support. Knowing that people care and think of us in our time of sadness helps in our healing process. Most people who are bereaved, grieve for a long time. It is never too late to reach out. Additionally, letting someone know that you are thinking of them and their loss, whether at a holiday, birthday, or any day you are reminded of the person who died, can help them through a particularly difficult time when for the rest of the world, life appears to have "gotten back to normal."

So, what is the big deal about a handwritten note? At a time when many of us are communicating via various forms of quick messages -- to touch base -- somehow, when a loved one is no longer here, when "their time is up," the preciousness of time carries even more meaning. Knowing that someone you care about "took the time" to write a thoughtful note allows the mourner to hold the note, read it whenever (and as many times) as they wish, and this engagement, support, and connection can be extremely soothing.

Here are some tips to guide when writing a condolence note:

Consider the Recipient and What They Would Appreciate. - The primary way of communicating for most people under 35 years of age is electronic. Sending a text or instant message may be thought of as sufficient. However, it can be jarring to receive a text at a moment when the grieving person isn't quite ready to address those feelings. A handwritten sympathy note is a tangible link to caring friends and can help the mourner feel less alone, perhaps even help assuage their sorrow. Such a simple act of compassion has the power to make a tremendous difference in this person's life.

Offer a Tribute to the Person Who Died. - This can be a source of comfort to the mourner. Mention the person who died by name. Recall some special qualities of the person along with a happy memory, if you have one.

Write As If You Are Talking to the Person Who is Grieving. - Use the tone you would use when speaking to them in person.

Include a Personal Strength or Quality about the Mourner. - Often a grieving person can feel guilty, and have doubts or anxiety. Hearing from a friend that you believe they have the faith, resilience, patience, strength, or attitude to go through this time, can be very meaningful.

Offer Help in Specific Ways. - This helps remind them of your caring for them as they go through this challenging time. Avoid "Just call me if you need anything" in favor of offering a particular helpful task you can perform.

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