There’s been a shift in a lot of funeral customs, in recent decades, to more “celebrations of life” and fewer mourning ceremonies, less formality and more off-the-cuff styles, more get-on-with-your-life messages. Grievers are told that, of course, they should never be expected to observe such a provincial and useless custom as writing thank you notes to people who sent flowers and gifts in their time of anguish. I respectfully and vehemently disagree. Those dismissing the thank you note customs are missing an important aspect about them.
My own loss of my husband was quite sudden. He walked out the door one lovely afternoon, looking happy and healthy, to go play pool with his buddies. My husband never came home again. While playing pool, he had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died 5 days later. Believe me, I discovered what anguish was. We had moved to our new retirement destination state a mere eleven months before. I had no family around me and very few friends, none of whom I knew well at that time. Our best friends from the state we just left offered to travel to be with me, but one of their own family members was very seriously ill at that time. I declined their offer, knowing they really needed to be with her.
I’ve never been more alone and overwhelmed in my life than I was at that time. I was left to make all the arrangements with unknown vendors, entirely by myself. And then to cancel them all, once a financial complication presented itself. Again, I was entirely alone and very anguished indeed. Read more about me here: Meet Mary Lee
The days passed and my old friends and distant elderly relatives began to reach out to me. Books, plants, flowers and even some lovely teas began to trickle in. The people who cared about us, both my husband and me, began to show themselves in the cards and gifts they sent. They let me know, the best way they could, that I was not alone. Their touching outreaches made all the difference. Knowing that they were with me in spirit gave me the strength to get up again. To face the day again. To begin again.
As a woman who was raised with very traditional customs, one of the things on my to-do list was to write thank-you notes to all of those who had taken the trouble to bridge the gap and connect with me. So many of them surprised me, as often they were friends, but not always close friends. They went out of their way to surround me with their love.
I’ve always been taught and became convinced that no act of kindness should go unacknowledged. I can still hear my mother saying “If you don’t feel like writing that thank you note, don’t expect to get another gift!” She was right, she always is. People are generally inclined to be kind, but if their efforts go unnoted, eventually they’ll lose motivation to continue making an effort. In the case of funerals, exceptions are allowable, as the job can be delegated to a friend or family member to write them. But they had to be written; those gestures of love had to be recognized.
So I began writing myself. While I wrote, a remarkable thing happened. Every note I wrote made me feel connected with the person to whom I was writing. Each thank-you note made me feel supported, where before, I felt deserted and alone. As the stack of completed notes grew before me, I was reminded that, instead of being so very alone, I was so very surrounded…by people who loved me. As I looked at the stack, I began to realize that, in the days ahead, if I faltered there were people who would help to catch me. In short? I began to heal. It was a long road ahead, but that was the day that the healing began. I’ve looked back on that exercise of etiquette sometimes on days I’m not feeling strong. Each time I do…I’m uplifted again.
Writing thank-you notes for funeral gifts can be one of the most loving things we, as grievers, can do for ourselves. Don’t dismiss it so easily. It can be a first step to healing.
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© 2022 Widowlution, All rights reserved.