While a simple card or handwritten note is a meaningful way to express sympathy on the loss of a loved one, the art of the condolence message comes in many forms. People send flowers, prepare food for the bereaved, attend memorials and funerals, make donations to charity.
Bereavement and loss can come suddenly and unexpectedly, as it did for me last year (2022) when I lost my husband of over 52 years. Condolence messages came in all of the above forms. Friends and neighbors brought meals, flowers, honey, and plants, made donations. During Murray’s brief illness, friends and colleagues, neighbors, family, and rabbis/clergy came to visit, bringing much appreciated conversation, books and DVDs, and treats.
Having written several posts about condolence notes and letters in the past, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what such a note should entail. The letters I received were so thoughtful and elegantly written, however, that I learned first-hand much about the art of condolences messages, as well as the impact that my late husband had on other people’s lives. They came from his former work colleagues, our personal friends, his former students, and even from his high school classmates. Many cards and letters came from people he met post-retirement, in the community as a neighborhood journalist and park volunteer.
A number of sites and publications about letter writing advise brevity when writing condolence messages. However, many of my favorites, among the close to two hundred written communications I received, included longer messages, messages that spoke to their thoughts about his character and influence on their lives.
Here is an excerpt from a letter written by a former teacher colleague: “I admired, respected, and loved Murray He was, of course, a great teacher who could combine storytelling, historical analysis, probing questions, logic and humor all into a ten-minute discussion with his engaged students. Peace and love, Bob H.”
Tori, the daughter of dear friends, wrote from her and her young family’s temporary home in Singapore: “we think especially fondly on memories of San Jose Giants baseball games together, or Gialina for dinner. Murray was always so curious about and interested in so many things and such a sincere listener.”
Two of my favorite notes were written by his editors at the Glen Park News. Their abilities to express their thoughts in words are not surprising, as both are professional journalists (USA Today and formerly the San Francisco Chronicle). An excerpt from Rachel’s note: “…writing with deep sorrow for the loss of our dear Murray – a creative, passionate, energetic human being who took delight in the small and large.”
And one more: “Murray was a special man. It was my pleasure to have known him professionally as well as socially. He always had a smile on his face, a story to tell, and a chuckle or two. His kindness and good heart permeated all that he said and did.” With much love, Judy and Don.
Chief among the themes presented by these many beautiful letters were his teaching, storytelling, listening skills, and empathy, and his impact on others. People wrote of their shared activities, such as volunteering in the beautiful Glen Canyon Park, swimming at the YMCA and the Balboa Park public pool, and his personal profile stories about the history and people of the Glen Park neighborhood.
These notes all have been deeply felt and appreciated. And each of them proves the point that writing a condolence message is an art.