Sunday, July 9, 2017

How To Write a Condolence Card When You Dislike the Bereaved: Six Tips

I was rather fond of a relative who just died. I don't like her kids with whom I've had almost no contact since 1995.

What to write on the condolence card? Hundreds of websites out there offer lines that sound really good. 

None advise on what to say when you'd prefer to avoid the bereaved. So I'm establishing  guidelines:

(1) Relax. You need not worry about buying the perfect card! My husband was on his way to the grocery story and said he'd pick one up. "Religious or non-religious?" he asked. "Non," I said, and I now have a crucifix-free card.

(2) Keep it simple. I once had a dreadful colleague whose brother committed suicide. It occurred to me that I might be fired for not sending a card, so I found one that had upbeat, comforting lines, wrote, "I am very sorry for your loss," signed the thing and sent it. 

(3) Resist the urge to explain. A no-brainer.

(4)  Although they're probably not looking for a card from you any more than you're looking to send one, they'll resent not getting one. Either way, they're not going to change, so just send the thing.

(5) Deaths are a time for reflection. Why was it you found your aunt more forgivable than her kids? Because they knew better--or I believed they did. That was my fault.

(6) Doesn't the person deserve a card even though you'd rather forget him or her? I suppose. Will a card from me be appropriate? The key issue remains whether you'll have less grief, so to speak, if you send the card. You're doing the socially correct thing. What's in your heart stays with you, if you wish to console.

True confession: I sent the thing, and now can throw away their address. I was surprised how exhausting it was to write four or five sentences. Almost more exhausting than producing that 68,000-word memoir I'm trying to market. Because I was restraining myself from dumping those words on my relatives. 

Who are, yes, in my book.


  1. Speaking about memoirs:
    1) I'm assuming you will let us know when yours is published?
    2) I just came across a paragraph (pages 13-14) in Laurie Penny's new book "Bitch Doctrine". In that paragraph she comments on memoirs, which goes as follows: "When women write and speak the truth of their own lives, it is called 'confessional', with the implication of wrongdoing, of sharing secrets that ought not to be spoken aloud, at least not by nice girls. When men do the same, it is called literature, and they win prizes. The reason that society at large is dismissive of and disgusted by the avalanche of personal writing by women, girls and queer people is the same reason we're doing it: because these stories have not been told before in such numbers. Writing and sharing those stories helps us feel less alone but, more than that, comparing experiences of oppression and hardship and hurt makes it possible to believe that the problem might not just be with us, as individuals. The problem might not be that we are not strong enough. The problem might be broader, more structural, something that those with privilege have to answer for personally and together. And that is a terrifying notion for anyone with a vested interest in the status quo. No wonder our words are dismissed as the confessional chatter of hysterics. If they weren't, they might have to be taken seriously."
    What are your thoughts on that?

  2. Wow. Catching my breath.
    (1) Who is "us?" If that thing gets published--so far three agents asked for it and then lost interest--I will get my own website and I'll put the book up on my university web page, too.
    (2) I agree with Laurie Penny. A writer who develops similar ideas in an interesting way is Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things To Me ( and, I believe, inventor of the term, "Mansplaining." She is really worth reading.
    I also love Emily Fox Gordon's perspective on the difference between confessing and confiding:
    Her first memoir, Mockingbird Years, is worth reading--deals with some of the same issues.
    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Thanks for replying so fast!
    1) "us" was just meant as a reference to the readers of your blog, assuming that if people read your blog, they might as well be interested in your memoir
    2) thanks for the recommendations! will check them out!

  4. So nice to have readers! (Actually pretty unusual for me. . . .) So unusual that I answer every comment.