Recently I had a colleague who lost a grandbaby. Baby Amelia was born at 25 weeks and blessed this world for only 5 short weeks. I cannot even begin to put words to this kind of loss…this kind of pain. My heart broke for my friend and his daughter and son-in-law.
We have all lost people that we love, but the loss of a child truly must be the greatest loss of all. I honestly cannot even imagine. I do not think that unless you have suffered such a loss there is any way to even begin to relate.
I struggled with what to say, as there is nothing to say. And I struggled with what to send, as there is nothing that seemed appropriate. After speaking with a minister I know who does grief counseling and doing additional research, I wanted to share with you what I did.
My research all lead to one point – less is more in this situation. Keep it simple. I made a donation to the March of Dimes and sent a simple sympathy card noting my condolences and the donation.
Finding the right words to write is never easy. But even though it’s not easy, it is important to reach out in sympathy. While nothing you say can help ease the deep pain your friend is feeling, your words can go a long way toward helping him feel loved and supported. Speaking from the heart is always the best way to go.
Here is what I wrote:
“The news of Amelia’s loss is heartbreaking. Please know that we are thinking of you, and that there is boundless love and prayer being offered for your family from all of us.
Your short time with Amelia is an incredible gift—I know you realize that, and will always be grateful for each day she expanded your capacity to love. Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
It is our prayer that the memories of your sweet little girl and the love of your family surround you and give you strength and peace in the days ahead.
We made a donation to March of Dimes in honor of sweet Amelia. We hope this will spread her light in the world.
All our love ~”
When writing a condolence letter there are some things you should avoid and some things you should focus on.
Things to avoid:
- Using a lot of clichés like “words cannot express”, “time heals all wounds”, “she is in a better place”, “this is all part of God’s plan” or “ I can only imagine your pain”
- Sending your message via email or social media
- Comparing the loss to a loss you’ve had
- Just buying a card and only signing it – you need to write a personal note
- Typos and sloppy handwriting – you do not want it to look like you were rushing
- Don’t write a novel
- Saying “if there is anything I can do for you, let me know” – you do not want to put this on them. It can also sound shallow or cliché.
Things to do:
- Speak from your heart
- Hand write your note
- Be sensitive of religious beliefs
- Sign with your full name. I know this is something you may not need to do if you are very close to the person, but grief can lead to confusion and this will help avoid any confusion over other relatives or friends with the same first name as you.
- Share a favorite memory of the deceased if you have one
- Instead of offering to help out in your sympathy card, wait 2-4 weeks and reach back out. Call, stop by or send a second letter and offer to bring them a meal or go out for coffee or a walk. After several weeks the visitors slow down, so this is a better time to reach out. If you live far away and plan to send a pre-cooked meal through a delivery service, like Honey Baked Ham, I suggest waiting a week or two.
If you are close to the family, you can and should offer to provide ongoing support. Two great ways to do this is to arrange a “meal train” or reaching out several times over the course of the first year.
A meal train is where you get several other people to cook meals and drop them off. These people do not need to know the person in grief. I find it best, to have the person drop off the meal with clear instructions. For example, “Cook something that feeds 5 and do not offer to stay. He doesn’t like to feel like he needs to entertain you” or “Cook a meal for 3, please include a dessert and offer to stay to chat for 10 minutes. She really enjoys a short visit.” You should arrange meals for several weeks following the loss and change the instructions as needed. You can always get direction from a close friend or relative if you are not a part of that inner circle. There are also several online services to help you organize this. Two examples are Take Them a Meal and Meal Train.
Providing ongoing support can be as simple as reaching out once a month to go for a walk or sending a letter every couple months to remind them you’re still thinking of them. Honestly, you would be surprised at how many people just want someone to sit with them and do and say nothing. It’s just having someone there that matters.
I normally send a letter with a book on dealing with grief during the first year after the loss. The books I use are called Journeying through Grief. They are a set of 4 books meant to be sent a set times throughout the year. The books are Christian based and each set is $10. I always send a hand written note with each book. Although these books can be helpful to these who are not Christian, you may want to Google [religion] + books for grieving friend. You will find an option that suits your needs.
If the person is not religious or you don’t know, you can always send general books on dealing with grief or just a letter. It is the act of support and reaching out to let the person know you are still thinking of them and supporting them that matters.
Several years ago, I had a very good friend that lost her dad. She lives far away, so spending time with her wasn’t really an option. She is an agnostic hippy chick, and would have rolled her eyes at my go to books. However, I know she loves different teas. So every other month I sent her a new tea with a note to let her know that I was still thinking about her and available for support. She told me my notes really did help because when everyone else had moved on with their lives my little note made her feel like it was ok for her to still be processing the loss.
The loss of loved one, especially a child, is devastating. It is hard to know what to say or do, but trust your gut. The very best path is to do what feels right and speak from your heart.