We’ve all had to get used to different methods of communication during the pandemic. Apparently, the art of letter writing has quickly come back into fashion, as many more people have taken to pen and paper to check in with loved ones.
Do you find writing comes naturally? Or are you always searching for the right words? Some people find the words just flow, while others struggle and choose to buy a card with the words already in it.
Neither is right or wrong, but when it comes to offering your condolences to someone who has recently lost a loved one, it’s important to make that communication, especially while we can’t see each other as easily or attend funerals.
Choosing the right words
Words can be extremely powerful. Using the right words in a condolence message can help comfort, heal and even change perspectives for the positive. Take these quotes for example:
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” From a headstone in Ireland
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell
We’re sure you’ll agree these two quotes sound very comforting. The words focus, not on what we’ve lost, but what we still have and will never lose.
“While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.” John Taylor
While this quote is also very comforting, it also has the power to change our perspective; the deceased is no longer with us, but it is hoped they are now reunited with other loved ones.
Of course, you don’t have to be a famous poet or literary genius to write a thoughtful message. Below are some top tips on writing a message that you’ll want to send. And remember, writing a message can also be an opportunity to offer help and support, as well as share happy memories of the person who has passed away.
What should the message include?
While there is no set structure for a condolence message, there are typical elements that you may want to include if you’re having difficulty getting started:
- Address the card or letter to every member of the family, if you know their names. It’s much more personal than to say, “Mike and family”.
- Start by telling them how sorry you are for their loss.
- Then tell them some good qualities of their loved one. It might be how funny they were, or how kind they were when you needed help. Hearing these qualities will help the family to know how much their loved one was appreciated by others.
- You can then go a bit further, if you want to, and share a story or memory you have of the deceased; something short but that really sticks in your mind and again, will bring much comfort to the family.
- Finish your note by offering some kind of support. This can be anything from a listening ear, to something more practical such as looking after the dog or doing their shopping; whatever is relevant and appropriate to the situation.
Top tip! Don’t write straight into your card. Draft some words on a scrap piece of paper until you’re happy with how it sounds. That way you won’t end up reaching for the Tipp-Ex or dashing out to buy another card!
What should I avoid in the message?
We mentioned earlier how powerful words can be. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy for the written word to be wrongly interpreted because there are no facial expressions, or voice, to confirm the tone in which something’s being said.
You can minimise any risk by carefully avoiding certain types of language.
Here are some examples:
“You should…” In any situation, this can be quite a negative phrase. The bereaved don’t always want to hear your opinions. Advice and support, yes, but not strongly worded opinions of what you think they ‘should’ be doing, thinking or feeling.
“You will…” Similar to the above, saying ‘you will’ can seem as if you know exactly how they are feeling or what is going to happen. Remember, every situation is unique.
Also, try and avoid certain cliche sentences such as, “What a terrible waste of life” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Although your intentions are good, phrases like these can be hurtful and cause distress.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t say something because it sounds cliche. If it’s appropriate – and true – then you should say it.
For instance, something like, “I was so sorry to hear about Laura’s passing”, while commonly used, is true. You were very sorry and can empathise with the person you are writing to.
Take your time over your message and don’t rush it. Also, don’t be afraid to express your feelings. You might really miss the person who has passed, be in shock that they’ve gone, or be struggling with your own grief.
It’s ok to share this; empathy and understanding are a huge part of the healing process and kind, loving words can only help bring more comfort.