Friday, November 26, 2004

How to Sign a Sympathy Card

My co-worker's husband died out of the blue. He was healthy and in his forties. She came home and just found him dead. The autopsy report said it was a heart attack. My other co-workers and I passed around a sympathy card. But what do you say? What words can possibly help to heal such shock and grief?

I was very impressed by my clinicals as a student working for a home hospice program in that they always signed and sent sympathy cards to the survivors of their deceased patients. My current employer does not have a similar routine in place (the sympathy card at work was undoubtedly initiated by a co-worker), however I have written a few sympathy cards for families of patients whom I had particularly meaningful contact with. Even for my own friends and family, there is often some awkwardness - what do you say in a card to someone who you know is grieving?

I found a few tips by Neil M Ellison, MD, as published in the Winter 2004 issue of "Quality of Life Matters" put out by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association that I've added my own thoughts to:

1. acknowledge the loss and express sympathy

-"I was saddened to find out about..."
-"Although I never met..."
-"It is difficult to find the words to express my sorrow..."

2. Mention specific evidence - from what you know - of the love shared between the person you are writing to and the deceased

3. Avoid euphemisms and trite phrases

-use the words "death" and "dying" rather than "passed away" or other euphemisms
-avoid sounding presumptive. don't say "I know how you feel;" "He has gone to a better place;" nor "I'm sure you'll do fine."

4. Minimally, mention the deceased's name. If you know the deceased, write about their good qualities or tell a memorable moment you shared with them.

5. Only make offers of assistance that you are willing to follow-through with

-as mentioned in my posting on Supporting a Friend Through Grief, make offers of specific things you'd like to do to help

6. End with a thoughtful closure, such as "you are in my thoughts" or "with deepest sympathy"

I hope my co-worker feels our love and support as she faces what I can only imagine to be a bottomless pit of sorrow.

Has anyone received any particularly memorable tokens of sympathy?

1 comment:

dein said...

thanks for the tips about sympathy card..:-) rally helpfull...