Late Condolences?
October 19, 2011 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Just found out that the child of a person I worked with (and was friends with through work) died two months ago. Should I contact them, or is it too late?

(I'm trying my best to protect the privacy of the family in question, so I'm trying to leave out things like gender and location. Please excuse the weird circumlocutions.)

I worked at a very small school for a couple of years a little while (less than five years) ago. One of the students, who was the child of another school employee died two months ago. I found out today, randomly (I was not contacted by anyone, but found out through an outdated news site). I was work friends with the child's parent at the school and taught there while the kid was a student there. I never had the child in question in any of my classes, but I did know them.

I'd like to contact the parent I knew and express condolences, but I'm afraid of either intruding or reopening wounds. It's been two months so I don't know how they are doing and am afraid of making things worse. The extra difficulty is that this is my former coworker's child, and this is the first time I've know someone who has lost their kid.

Extra difficulty, although not insurmountable, the former coworker no longer works there, although given the closeness of the community, I have no doubt I can get their address if I contact the school.

So, should I get the address or phone number and contact the former coworker, or should I simply let things lie? If I should contact this person, phone call or card? (I think an email would be too informal, but if that makes sense, please tell me.) I'm feeling really out of my depth here.

(If the age of the child matters, let me know, but I figured this would be the case no matter the age.)
posted by Hactar to Society & Culture (14 answers total)
It's never too late, and I think it's impossible to reopen wounds -- their child will never be far from their mind.

A card would be best, I think. I'm sure they will be very grateful for your condolences.
posted by cider at 1:43 PM on October 19, 2011 [21 favorites]

It is NOT too late. Parents who have lost children often feel like, after a few months pass, no one wants to talk about it. There is no way that, two months after losing a child, the child's passing feels like "old wounds."

Send a card with your heart-felt condolences and a happy memory of the child.

Good on you for doing this.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:43 PM on October 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

I would think a polite, "I have just heard of your loss and wish to give my condolences, late though it is" would be acceptable.

My mother received a letter from Germany six months after her mother died, from relatives there (on the then East German side), expressing their condolences.
posted by mephron at 1:43 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

That wound will be open for a very long time. Like forever, I can only imagine. Absolutely send your condolences.
posted by mokeydraws at 1:44 PM on October 19, 2011

Best answer: Bereaved parent here. The sentiments above are correct. It's never too late to acknowledge their loss. It'll be an open wound their whole lives -- two months might as well be two hours.

Send a card, offer your most sincere condolences. It's not an intrusion at all -- one of the things parents in this situation want the most is for their child to not be forgotten. You're helping reassure them that isn't going to happen.

It's okay to feel out of your depth; just about everybody I knew was scared of talking to me about it -- hell they still are and it's two years later now.

Feel free to memail me if you want.
posted by MustardTent at 1:48 PM on October 19, 2011 [21 favorites]

A card is best, and is the least intrusive, in that no-one's placed on the spot having to discuss it or reply or whatever. There's also nothing wrong with an apologizing for your lateness, but that you had not heard before now.

It will be appreciated.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:51 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Send a card, and include a personal note; mention something about what a lovely person the child was, and how fondly you remember their family.

One of the worst things about losing a loved one is when everyone seems to just wipe that person out of existance: no mentions, no photos, they're just 'disappeared'. To know that their child IS remembered will be a comfort.
posted by easily confused at 1:56 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bereaved kid here, it's absolutely okay to send a note whenever. Remeberances of the child, even if they seem trite or goofy or not-entirely-positive are often welcome at times like these. Personally unless you feel really ept over the phone, I'd do email or a written card. I'm super email-friendly so it never seems out of place to me and I was touched by how many people took the time, email or card, to talk to me about my loss.
posted by jessamyn at 1:57 PM on October 19, 2011

After my mother died, I really appreciated people who got in touch with me, even months or years later, to say "I just heard that she died, and I'm so sorry — do you know the story about the time she [whatever]..."

Cards and letters were the most welcome, in part because I didn't have to divert part of my attention to "how am I reacting in this conversation, am I about to burst into tears and make this person uncomfortable?" and in part because I could go back and reread them whenever I wanted to.

Also, don't worry too much about whether it's eloquent. At my mom's memorial service people had the option of writing something on a "memory card", which the funeral home collected and gave to the family. The card that stuck in my memory, which can still make me weepy 17 years later, was all of three words: "Donna loved glitz."
posted by Lexica at 2:26 PM on October 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

I agree with everything said here- I think the parents will appreciate the acknowledgment of their loss and the fact that you are thinking of them and their child.

Even if you no longer work with the mother, she will appreciate your thought. Looking back on this period she will remember that you showed your care.

If I were you I would go for old-fashioned snail mail. I lost my dad when I was a little kid and sometimes on the anniversary of his death my family and I look through all the cards and letters we received at the time. Having these letters to keep is a good way to remember your lost one and how much they meant to the community.
posted by costanza at 2:40 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Instead of card or e-mail send them a letter.
posted by dgeiser13 at 3:47 PM on October 19, 2011

Another bereaved parent here. I agree with MustardTent, it is never too late to send your condolences. Having people acknowledge our loss, even now nineteen months later, is a gift to us. On the other side of the token, when people ignore our loss as if it never happened it feels like a knife through the heart.

A simple card is enough to let them know that their child's death did not pass by unnoticed.
posted by teamnap at 3:51 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

There will forever be parts of the world learning of, or remembering this person afresh. The family never forgets and the love and memory are always welcome.
posted by lathrop at 6:43 PM on October 19, 2011

After several notes I had sent to surviving family members (a parent that lost a child, a friend that had lost a parent) were so heart-breakingly and sincerely appreciated, I have made it a point to always always always send a note (even if I attend the funeral, which I did in those cases). I have also sent "just thinking of x" notes way past the death and they are always appreciated.
posted by Pax at 6:52 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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