Are Thank You Notes Necessary After the Death of a Loved One?

I was brought up with a Southern mother who drummed into us the lesson that it doesn’t matter if someone gives you a diamond or a dandelion…thank you notes are a must. And for the most part, I completely agree.  For whatever the gift or sentiment, the giver thought of you, took the time out of their day to give you something, and that action should be acknowledged.

Even now, with my kids as young as they are, I have them write their own thank you notes.  And I even have them write them to each other after a birthday or holiday.  We all know, that as the giver, it gives us a little smile to know that someone is enjoying the gift we gave them.


Immediately after the death of someone close to you, you’re either one of two things:  You’re running around manically trying to get a million things done at once so you don’t have to think about what’s going on, OR you’re laying in your bed, trying your hardest not to move just in case the grief monster is in the room, notices you, and plans a sneak attack.

Either way, you’re really not up for calmly sitting down and writing a thank you note for the potted plant someone brought to the funeral or the ham you never had the appetite to eat.  Because, in the grand scheme of things (and nothing gives us a glimpse into The Grand Scheme of Things like the death of a loved one)…compared to the size of your grief…is a thank you note really that important?

And don’t even get me started on the effort it takes to address the damn things.

When my husband died, a good family friend of mine was very forward-thinking and immediately set up a family fund at my bank so that people could contribute monetary gifts for the kids.  This was a great idea.  I personally didn’t get the checks (and, therefore, I didn’t lose the checks) and they were deposited in this account, safe and sound.


The bank didn’t really keep track of who sent the checks.  Some of the employees kept the cards that came with them, some of them didn’t.  So, I had no idea where half of those checks came from.  Enter panicky feeling here.  Because I didn’t know where to send the thank you note.

Really?  My husband’s dead…and that’s what I’m worried about?

Now, I understand that part of the business end of the thank you note is just an acknowledgement that you’ve received the gift and that’s very important.  But for me to be completely stressed out, 3 weeks after my husband died, about thank you notes…is a little ridiculous.

I know I’m not the only person this has happened to.  About a year after he died, I was sitting with a new widow and the same thing had happened to her (with a different bank).   She looked exhausted as she explained the effort she had put into trying to track down who had sent what.  So that she could then research the person’s address and send them a 2 sentence thank you note acknowledging the gift.

Is it just me…or maybe she shouldn’t have had to worry about that when she was trying to figure out how she was going to raise a 2 year old daughter on her own after husband had died instantly in a plane crash?

THEREFORE (and you know this is going to be big since I put it in capital letters), I am starting a new movement that I hope will catch on.

Thank you notes are not necessary after the death of a loved one.

For the gift giver…I have some suggestions:

  • If you’ve sent a check and you’re worried about whether or not it made it…check your bank and see if the check cleared.  If it did…we got it.  THANK YOU.
  • If you’ve ordered flowers and you want to make sure that they were at the funeral, ask someone who is attending (surely you must know somebody), and if they did…THANK YOU.  (This also applies to ham, little mini rose plants, and that bottle of scotch, which believe me…we appreciated.)
  • Know that any gift you have given…the gift of your time, your money, or your sympathy is greatly appreciated.  And that just because you may not receive the actual thank you note in a timely manner, doesn’t mean we don’t know all that you have done for us.  We’re just trying to walk and breathe at the same time.  So putting pen to paper is not high on our list of priorities.

Since I have personally been through this, when I give someone a gift after a loss, I immediately say, “I don’t need a thank you note.  I know you got it.  I know it will be used.  Take me off your list.”

Even better…one of the sympathy cards (and checks) I did personally receive had a note in it that said, “Don’t write me a thank you note.  Take that time and do a puzzle with your kids.”

Now that’s a gift.

Catherine Tidd 2010

Catherine Tidd

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Catherine Tidd is a widow and the Founder of, a free social support network dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other. She is also a writer, public speaker, and mother to three young entertaining children. She received a degree in English from Rollins College in 1998 and has since worked as a writer, editor, Marketing Manager, and Event Planner. Originally from Louisiana, Ms. Tidd currently lives in Denver, CO. To read more of Catherine's work, visit


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