By Beverly Chantalle McManus
Over the past six years since Steve’s death, in grief workshops and counseling sessions, I’ve talked with hundreds of people whose loved ones have died. One of the most common hurdles in the grief and loss process is writing thank you notes acknowledging the thoughtful care, the flowers, the cards, the remembrances, from those who surround us during these tough times.
I know that for me, despite the immense gratitude I felt in my heart for the thoughtfulness of friends and family, the act of writing the thank you notes was all but impossible.
In some social circles, pre-printed thank you cards are common — these are often supplied by the funeral home, and state something like “The family appreciates your support and care during this hard time.”
These types of cards would not have been appropriate in my situation and for my circle of friends and loved ones, many of whom went to extraordinary efforts to shower us with care and love during Steve’s illness and after his death. Each act of service, each beautiful flower arrangement, each tasty dinner that was lovingly provided needed an acknowledgment of a more personal nature.
But as I sat with the stack of thank you notes and my address book, my mind was a total blank. I felt so shattered, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually. It was difficult to even put pen to paper, much less write something that could convey how much their thoughtful acts were appreciated.
The days passed, and soon it became awkward to have waited so long. I knew I just needed to get it done. I finally realized that getting them in the mail was a lot more important than feeling that I had to write the “perfect” thank you card, so I drafted a brief statement that I could use on all the cards, and then filled in the specifics for each card recipient. Finally I was able to get these done, and remove that heavy guilt load of unfinished business.
In the time since, many widows and widowers have asked for tips on getting through this difficult task of the grief process.
What I’ve discovered:
Buy a lot more cards and stamps than you think you’ll need . As I continued to think through all the thoughtfulness, I found myself going to the store several times for more and wish I’d just stocked up at the outset.
The notes don’t need to be perfect — just convey your sincere thoughts.
Even if they all seem similar, the recipient won’t know that you said basically the same thing to everyone else to whom you sent a card. They primarily just want confirmation that the flowers did arrive, that you did receive the dinner they sent, that their contribution was recognized.
Several friends have asked for specifics of what to say. I don’t blame them, and wish I’d had such a list when it was time for me to write my thank you notes. Please feel free to use these, and to make them your own.
Start with the introduction:
- “Dear _______: We so appreciate the love and support you have given us during this hard time.”
Then add a note about the specific acts of kindness.
- Flowers: “The floral arrangement you sent was beautiful, and so thoughtfully conveyed your care. The blossoms and greenery have added a note of cheer to an otherwise very sad part of our lives.”
- Food/Casseroles/etc: “The delicious _____ you brought/sent was so welcomed, and so comforting at such a difficult time. Sharing your kitchen’s bounty and your talents with us was so thoughtful, and something we will long remember.”
- Sympathy/Condolence Cards: “Your personal note about _____ was so welcome, and so very comforting. We hope we will have more time to share more memories in the days ahead.”
- Pall Bearers/Music at the funeral: “Your participation as a pall bearer [singer, flute soloist, etc.] in the funeral/memorial services was so welcome. Thank you for showing your care in this way.”
Then close your note:
- “Your kindness has made such a difference in helping us get through this, and we hope you know how much you mean to us.”
Of course, you’ll want to change the notes to reflect you and your family’s situation — if they are coming just from you, and then change “we” and “us” to “me” and “I.” And if someone did something extraordinary, such as picking up out-of-town relatives at the airport or hosting overnight guests for you, you’ll include these details as well.
I think the key is to just carve out some time, sit down and plow through your list, perhaps starting with the easiest ones. If your list is long, divide it across several days — don’t worry if they don’t all go out on the same day. And if you are lucky and can recruit some helpers to take portions of the list, all the better! I know that following my mom’s death, my sister and sister-in-law and I portioned out the list and made pretty fast work of it, because we each had a manageable number of cards to write.
You may be one of those lovely souls who can effortlessly write a beautiful, personalized card to each person on your list and if that is the case, I salute you! But if you’re like me and many others, I hope you’ll take solace in knowing that you’re not the only one to face this task with foreboding. But you can do this; you’ve already been through one of the worst experiences that can happen, so you can get through this task too. I promise.
Beverly Chantalle McManus lives in Northern California with her two daughters, who have each now graduated from college. She is Vice President and Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Open to Hope Foundation, a bereavement facilitator and core team member of the Stepping Stones on your Grief Journey Workshops, and a frequent speaker and writer on the topic of loss and grief. In addition to grief support, she is also a marketing executive for professional services firms.
(c) 2009 Beverly Chantalle McManus