Knowing a family member or friend who lost a loved one who died is hard. It is even harder when you cannot be present at the memorial service. You want to be there for your family member or friend, because that is what friendship is all about. The question is how can you support them without being present? One possible solution is to write a condolence letter. Just remember that a handwritten letter still suggest a more personal and emphatic character than a typewritten letter. Only type the letter if you handwriting is difficult to read.
A properly written letter will show that you care about them and that you are sympathetic to their pain and loss. Although conveying the message in person is always preferable, a good condolence letter will offer support and it is thoughtful to do. Your letter also allows the bereaved to read it again later, thus adding to the support your words offer. Writing the letter also gives you time to ponder the way you express yourself, allowing you to word carefully your letter for maximum impact and support.
For most people writing a letter is however not easy. It is a good idea to start with a rough draft on three separate pages. On the first page, write down words of sympathy and comfort. Also give a short and to the point excuse for missing the memorial. On the second page talk about the deceased. You can do this in three steps. Remind the bereaved what you remember about the deceased, what influence the deceased had on your life and why you are going to miss him or her. If possible, try to add some positive memories of the deceased. Try writing something about his or her hobbies, personality, interests or shared experience. This will help make your letter more engaging. On the final page write down your support and, if possible, in what ways you are available to them. For instance if you are willing to be available any time of day for a phone call, tell them that. Be honest, and be specific. Do not make general promises you will not be able to keep. These three steps will help you keep your thoughts focused and give a natural flow to your letter. This will serve to write an honest, heartfelt letter that will give support in your absence.
It is not necessary to fill all three pages on each topic. Sometimes a short, straightforward letter is worth far more than a long wordy letter. Use the extra space on each page to try different approached or fine-tune what you have written. If necessary, use more pages until you are happy with the results. Avoid being to sentimental or giving too much advice. Especially avoid standard responses like “It was the will of God”, or “I know how you feel”, or “The most beautiful flower is always picked first”, or “this is for the best”. Rather keep to the three topics and combine them to one final letter. Always keep your letter personal and refer to the deceased by name. If you are unsure of spelling or the person’s name, try to find out. It will make the letter so much more personal.
Write and mail the letter as soon as possible. Avoid sending emails. It is not personal enough. If you call the bereaved, tell them that you mailed them a letter, so they know to look for it. If you know someone that can hand deliver the letter on the day of the memorial service or soon after it is even better. Just be sure the person is trustworthy and will forget the letter. The letter should not arrive more than 14 days after you received the news.
Missing a memorial service is difficult. Writing a good, personal letter of condolences can make up for your absence. It is not easy to write the letter, but start soon and keep experimenting until you find the correct words. Follow the advice above and ask other people to read the letter and give feedback. This way you can still support the bereaved and remain a good friend or family member.