Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Sympathy Note: Advice from the Art of Manliness Blog

death ritual

In previous posts, I have shared some of my own thoughts and the work of others on the very important topic of what to say to the grieving. Yesterday on the consistently useful and interesting "Art of Manliness" website, writers Brett and Kate McKay gave some of the best advice I've read on the subject. In discussing the art of writing a sympathy note, and sharing their own experience in receiving sympathy notes after the loss of a child, they demonstrate the importance of writing these notes and give a great tutorial on how to do it. Most of this advice is just as useful when talking to the bereaved. Here's a taste. For the full text, visit The Art of Manliness.

death ritual

How to Write a Sympathy Note

Use nice stationery. Casual notes can be written on whatever is handy. But the sympathy note requires something nicer. Death is the gravest of matters and your medium should reflect your respect for the weight of the situation.

Keep it short and simple. A lot of men can’t get started writing because they think they have to come up with something deep and philosophical about death, dying, and hope. While the bad news is that there’s nothing you can write to take away a person’s pain, the good news is that the grieving friend knows this just as well as you do. They’re not expecting something profound. They just want to know that you’re thinking of them and feeling for them.

Start off by expressing your sadness at hearing about the death. “I was so sorry to hear about the death of your father.”

Share a memory. There’s not much you can do to alleviate someone’s grief, but sharing a memory of the deceased person comes close. It gives the person a few moments to laugh and remember. And it warms their heart to know that others have special memories of their loved one that they carry with them. Share some of the special qualities and favorite memories about the deceased.

If you didn’t know the person your friend lost, then skip this step. If your friend lost a baby, tell them that you understand that even though your friend never got to meet their child, they’re grieving over the loss of the future they’ve been dreaming about with him or her.

Don’t try to explain the loss. If you’re a religious person, don’t offer platitudes like “This is God’s plan,” or “This is God’s will.” This might be something the person comes to believe in the future, but in the midst of their grief, the idea of God snatching their loved one from the earth is liable to piss them off. I knew a guy who lost his wife in a car accident, leaving him to raise his 5 young children alone. He said to me, “If I hear one more person say, ‘God needed her more in heaven,’ I’m going to knock them out.”

Don’t compare your loss with theirs. This is especially true if you haven’t experienced the exact same thing. If their child has died, don’t tell them how you know what they’re going through because your dog just expired last week. You’ll come off as callous and tick them off. If you have experienced a similar loss, a reference to your ability to truly sympathize is appropriate. But don’t go on and on about how you felt during that time; the focus should remain on the other person.

Show your solidarity. Let them know that you’re thinking and praying for them. If you or your friend or family member is not religious and a reference to prayer would not be appropriate, simply say, “My heart and thoughts go out to you during this difficult time.”

Close by offering your help. Let the person know that if there is anything you can do for them or if they ever want to talk or hang out, to please let you know.

Photos: The Art of Manliness, Books do Furnish a Room

1 comment:

Morgan said...

I think sympathy notes are better than most anything. People like and appreciate a personal touch. It doesn't have to be long, just has to come from the heart.

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