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Hello! My name is Shannon Taylor. I'm a long-time writer and editor living in the woods of Wisconsin with my husband, four children, a black lab, and two crazy cats.


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In Sympathy / Funeral Etiquette

Helen Keller Sympathy

This post could also be called “Why I Should Listen to My Mother.”

Not too long ago we were talking about funerals and my mom said she’s learned to write her address on the inside of sympathy cards when she gives a gift or memorial for a funeral.

We attended two funerals last week, so this idea came up. I hemmed and hawed because doesn’t it seem sort of pushy?

I went ahead and wrote our address inside the cards…a little sheepishly.

So fast forward to this morning. I got an e-mail from my friend, the one whose husband passed away, asking for the addresses for everyone in our book club so she could send thank-you notes.

Well. Of course I was happy to gather the addresses for her, and I feel like I got a pretty clear answer.

But now here’s another question. Would you write what you gave in the card as well, or is that going too far?

And is there anything you’ve learned from being on either the giving or receiving end of help and comfort that you could share?

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Comments

  1. Lynda says:

    Hi Shannon
    For me the hardest part was dealing with the enormous volume of cut flowers. Not only did I not have enough vases, and I needed huge vases for most of them, they needed to have water changed and be attended to daily. The smell from so many flowers became nauseating. Not to mention they died, just like my mum!

    In short, beautiful food from a gourmet deli, especially something that can be frozen, or a home cooked meal in a dish that you have bought new so the person can keep it (rather than remembering who they have to return it to) is a more practical way of showing you care. Shopping and cooking is so very difficult in the early days. If you still want to send flowers, send a plant that an be put outside or at least survive a bit longer on its own.
    Lynda xx

    1. Shannon says:

      Lynda, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I saw the photo you posted recently of your mum, and she was so beautiful and much too young to lose.

      I’d never thought of the problem with cut flowers, but I can see where they would become overwhelming. And the idea of letting the family know that they don’t have to return the dish is a good one.

  2. Marilyn says:

    That’s a good idea, because in my experience, it’s actually a loved one who is often helping the immediate family organize thank you cards.

    I’m learning that being deeply present, without anywhere else to be, is sometimes the most that I can offer someone who is grieving. It seems simple, but it’s still something that I’m trying to learn through purposeful practice.

    1. Shannon says:

      Marilyn, both of the funerals we attended were very sad, but one was tragic. My friend sent me a link to a song called “Come Close Now” that touches on the idea of feeling helpless and not knowing what to say or do for someone who is suffering so deeply. I’ll share the video, and would love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Melyssa Rice says:

    I don’t think someone needs to send thank-you cards after a funeral, personally. They are having a hard enough time — it seems like a crazy, punishing ritual to have to thank someone at possibly the worst moment in their life! But, it’s nice to have the address there if they need it.

    1. Shannon says:

      That’s kind of what I was wondering about, Melyssa. Does having to send thank-you notes feel like a burden? I’m with you, though–go ahead and include the address, just in case.

  4. Judy says:

    I like the comment that says we don’t have to send thank yous for funerals, but I found that I need to express my gratitude to all of the wonderful memorials and flowers that someone took the time and money to send. This is one thing I found: Don’t ask “What can I do to help?” Your mind is much too muddled to answer. When someone gave me a multiple choice question, I could answer. Fill in the blank, not so good. One friend arranged for a cleaning lady to come in and do cleaning, another friend came over and made beds with clean sheets for all of the company, others realized I had racked up considerable airline bills to get the family home, so they donated money. The book club, gave money, sent food, sent flowers and showed up at the funeral. How can you ever express enough gratitude for what they have done?

    1. Shannon says:

      Judy, I feel the same as you. On Facebook, my aunt commented that thanking people was part of her grieving process. Of course, everyone will have their own path through grief, but I like the idea of saying thanks.

      And you’re so right about not asking “What can I do to help?” I experienced that after Tim’s accident. (And, in fact, I have an article about that very concept sitting on my computer waiting to be sent out. Sigh.) Actually, “What can I do to help?” isn’t the worst one. It’s “Let me know if I can do anything to help.” Not to sound horribly ungrateful, but it felt like one more thing I had to do!

  5. Amy says:

    I’ve seen, “no need to send a thank you note” written in cards sent at funerals – from folks who had recently experienced a death in their own family.

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