Even though death is an every day part of our existence at Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory, those of us in this field are certainly not immune to any of the effects people not in the industry feel when they lose a loved one.
Tragedy struck in our family last month when two significate loved ones passed within five days of one another. It was a terrific body blow, one whose impact is still being felt. Even when death is anticipated, we known from working with clients and from personal experience, nothing immediately mitigates a loss. As Williams Shakespeare so aptly put it, “Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.”
The experiences that we had did however bring to mind a few pointers that those experiencing a loss might benefit from – the whole issue of thank you notes in particular.
Are Thank You Notes Still Appropriate?
Absolutely! In the days of texting, emails, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, etc., there is still no substitute for a personal thank you note following a funeral. Additionally, the act of writing a thank you note can help the grieving process, in the sense that one gets connected to those who cared for your loved one.
So, Who Should Receive Thank You Notes?
There is the argument that thank you notes should be sent to everyone who attended the service – we personally do not feel that this is necessary, but clearly this is a matter of personal preference. Definitely those on the list who are entitled to some kind of acknowledgement would include: people who sent or brought flowers; those who have been helpful in specific tangible ways (provided transportation, babysitting, brought food, etc.); musicians who were part of the ceremony by request – singers, cantors, soloists of any kind; pallbearers; those who made memorial donations; funeral directors, if the relationship is of a personal nature; co-workers of both the loved one and of the family; those who traveled a long distance; clergy. Individual differences certainly apply here: different families may wish to acknowledge other based on personal or professional relationships.
Many funeral homes offer standardized thank you cards with personal messages. For example, here is a fairly typical acknowledgment card: “The family of … will always hold in grateful remembrance your thoughtful expression of sympathy.” These standardized cards come in various price ranges, but they always include a space for a hand written acknowledgment by a family member.
Who Should Actually Write the Thank You Card?
Again, this practice varies, but in our case one person did most of the writing, while other participated based on their knowledge of the recipients of the cards. Organizational skills, obviously, are quite important here. While there is no set time that a card should be sent, no more than two or three weeks after the memorial service seems to be the most appropriate window of time.
There are websites that can help one structure a fine message of gratitude, but our experience is a simple statement is probably the best route to go: “Thank you for (the food, the memorial gift, the hymn that you sang, etc.).” Staying away from elaborate or dramatically sentimental language is more in keeping with a fitting recognition of thanks.
One other point: it might surprise some that these thank you notes frequently are kept by those who received them. In my own case, I happened to interview and get to know a famous baseball player, Dizzy Dean. Above is a picture of me interviewing him at the Dizzy Dean Museum in Wiggins, Mississippi. When he passed away in July of 1974, I sent flowers as well as other acknowledgments to his widow, Pat Dean. Below is a photo of the thank you card I received form Pat – she included a lengthy personal note, which I will always treasure.
Do not underestimate the emotional value people attach to thank you cards, and by all means, remember how important it is to send them.