by Sandy Fox
Whether you are a bereaved parent or just know of someone else who has lost a child, the most challenging letter an individual is ever called upon to write is a letter of condolence, particularly one about a child. The written word can bring much comfort when coping with a loss. We want to convey so much to these bereaved parents, particularly if we are close to them, but how should we do it?
A few tips follow. First, acknowledge the loss and how shocked and dismayed you were to hear about the child dying. Then express your sympathy and let the grieving person know how much you care or perhaps you can relate to the anguish of their loss if you, too, have been there. Talk about the child and some personality traits, qualities or an anecdote that evoked a smile, a laugh and a fond memory. Perhaps that child influenced your life in some way or did something with you you’ll never forget. Offer to help with the little things the parents find difficult at the beginning, like shopping, running errands, answering the phone and taking care of the other children. Finally, close with a caring thought, like “My thoughts are with you at this time,” “You are in my thoughts and prayers” or “We share in your grief and send you our love.”
I have had to write many of these letters over the years and can sometimes be at a loss for what to say. No two children are alike; no two deaths are alike. But the words do come, sometimes spilling out as my heart goes out to these parents. I feel good when I am done and send the note. I always have to hope, though, that these parents understand my words and wishes and that I have not waited too long or written it too soon. Bereaved parents also have to understand that a condolence letter to them is done out of caring and love and should be accepted as one way for others to express how much the child also meant to them.
On a personal note, I received and cherished many beautiful letters when Marcy died and even learned a lot about my daughter through these condolence thoughts that I never knew before. I was told about how much Marcy cared for others, how she always went out of her way to help others, what a good friend she was and how much she was loved by her friends and family. I have kept them all. I could actually say these letters changed my life. They gave me the impetus for putting together a small booklet of these letters to give to people who I knew would appreciate receiving them. Their gracious comments led me on a long road to finally write my book, including thoughts and some of those letters in the book and wanting to share additional stories of hope from others across the U.S.
This was not my plan. My plan was to be a part of my daughter’s new married life, see her accomplish her career goals, be a part of the family she would have, be a grandmother. But that was not to be. One never knows where life may lead you, but in doing what comes from the heart, only good can come of it. My plan is now to help others as best I can and live my life to the fullest, always keeping Marcy close to me, in my heart and in everything I do. And if writing a condolence letter can help a grieving parent in some way to know their child’s life was important to others like me, then I have accomplished something very meaningful for myself and the bereaved parent.