Friday, January 06, 2006


Existential Friday: condolences

My friend L just lost her mom, at around the 2-year anniversary of my mom's death. What do you say to a friend who has just lost a parent? The search for "the right words" is so hard that many of us outsource the problem to Hallmark cards.

In December 2003, I moved into my parents' house to take care of my mom for her last 2 1/2 weeks. To allow her to die in her own bedroom required an exhausting logistical case-management effort on the part of both me and my sister.

One of the nicest condolence notes I received was sent by a friend, D, whose mother had died several years before. D said that she was sure that my mom was grateful that I was there to help her with "that important transition." I don't believe in an afterlife, yet the notion that death was an "important transition" in a person's life struck me as true and somehow very comforting.

So the other day I wrote to my friend L that "when my mom died, I had the feeling that in exchange for this incredible sadness, I was given a token redeemable for a small glimmering of insight. The world was darker but more vivid, and for the first time I could talk as an equal to people who had experienced that loss."

Maybe the Hallmark card is better, I don't know. I wonder whether Hallmark requires its condolence card writers to have had firsthand experience with grief. I doubt it.

Yet another beautiful post.

My sincere condolences to your friend.

Don't compare your note to a Hallmark card! Your thoughtful words are leagues above that card mill. It's like comparing a $1.99 artificial flower to a grove of wild flowers.
I bet your friend L saves your note for the rest of her life.
Janelle's right. A personal, handwritten note is always better, even if clumsily worded. Which yours isn't.
This is not comparable at all, but it confirms what you already know: (that any message written by you would be way more wonderful than a printed card): when I was very very ill, near death actually, people sent notes. Bags of notes, from the most unlikely sources: the principal's secretary at my daughters' elementary school, for example. I kept these even as I downsized this summer and got rid of so many notes and papers.

And of course, more often than not, I neglect to send that scribbled note to someone who would benefit from it. So a pat on your back for not neglecting it.

{Of course, you could overkill and be such a compulsive note sender that you look ridiculous. I remember when my mother had cancer, the teen kid of a distant friend of hers was obviously told by his mom to sit down and write a note. It went something like this: "Dear Mrs. XXXXX, I heard you had breast cancer. I am so sorry. I hope you will soon recover and come back to lead a normal life." BTW, there's no danger in me ever doing too many notes. None whatsoever.)
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