As inevitable as death is, expressing our sorrow to someone who has lost a loved one remains difficult at best for most. So many people will struggle with what to say or how to say it that they never do it at all.
Don't let that paralyze you from extending compassion.
A condolence letter won't ease the heartache of the recipient, but it will give them a measure of comfort knowing they are in other people's thoughts and prayers.
That is where our sincere notes and letters come in. It is the worst time in a family's life, yet anyone who has walked that path will tell you how much the handwritten notes and letters meant to them.
While greeting card companies produce Sympathy cards, the occasion of the death of someone special absolutely calls for a handwritten note on personal stationary. Do not, under any circumstances, tweet, facebook message, or e-mail condolences.
The letter needn't be lengthy. A heartfelt expression of sorrow for their loss, followed by a personal remembrance including the name of the descedant is sufficient.
The letter should be written within several days of learning of the passing. Beyond two to three months, unless you've been living on the moon, is at expiration-status, too late and risking insensitivity.
On occasion, I will tuck a linen handkerchief into a note or have it hand-delivered for the recipient to place in their purse for use the day of the service. Often people remark that they'd never thought of a gesture so intimate.
Expressing condolences opens up a window of possibilities of ways to reach out, comfort, and console...whether it be handerchiefs or handmade pot pies.
This time-honored tradition is more than just a gesture of thoughtfulness, it is a way for us to connect, comfort and underscore the essence of civility. Afterall, it really DOES 'Manner A lot'.