Yesterday I wrote a sympathy card to a man who once lived across the street from our family when I was growing up.
Sadly, his wife died last week after suffering for about a year with a degenerative illness. He could no longer take care of his wife by himself and instead moved her to a small caring medical facility a few blocks from their house. It was a difficult decision for the whole family and I understand that he visited her almost every day. I haven’t seen either one of them in years but they still are important people to me.
As a teenager, I babysat for their three children and so did another one of my sisters. We would always wave to them if they were playing or working in their yard and sometimes we would walk across the street for short conversations. My mother and his wife talked a lot because our families had children who were the same ages and they would all be outside mixing it up at the same times.
As I sat down to express my sympathy, I realized that even though I lost my spouse a number of years ago and I have a pretty good idea how much pain this man is feeling, it was still difficult to write a sympathy card.
But I pushed forward to find the right words for him because I still remember how comforting the sympathy cards and letters were to me after my husband died and I would never let my awkwardness stop me from helping another person in the throes of grief and vulnerability.
Writing heartfelt condolences is a tricky area and you’re never quite sure if you are saying the right thing. You know that the person is stunned, their feelings are raw and you are hoping to bring comfort through your words.
I think the most honest and touching thing anyone can write to the grieving person is about how you knew the person that died; what they meant to you, how you met them and a special memory you may have of them. Maybe they said something to you that always has stayed with you and helped inspire you.
In the end, everyone always wants to hear lots of stories about the person they loved and lost.