Belated Thanks; Funeral Version
October 8, 2017 12:50 AM   Subscribe

Today is the 3 month anniversary of my mother's death. After the funeral, I intended to promptly send thank you cards to those who attended the service or sent flowers/money/food. I think about it every single day, and I've even started to draft some of the cards in my head, but I haven't put pen to paper.

It may be important to know that my father's heath plummeted within a week of mom's funeral. He's gone from hospital to a care facility and might not be able to return home, so my focus since the funeral has been on my dad. I know that sounds like I'm making an excuse, and maybe I am, but I'm sharing it here because it's a complicating factor.

When I write the cards, do I mention what's going on with dad, or do I leave it out? Do I apologize for my belated thanks, or do I write my card as if mom died just last week?

With "normal" gifts, my thank you cards always reference the item, praise it, and say how I'll use it. But how do I say, thank you for the flowers, which are now all dead? I'm worried that my delay in thanking folks now will cause unnecessary pain, for me and the person who will receive the card. More importantly, how do I sincerely convey thanks when my delay suggests ingratitude?

I really don't want permission to weasel out of sending the cards - it would make me feel even more guilty and reflect badly on our whole family. I feel like I just need some guidance and appropriate wording. And maybe a gentle shove.
posted by kbar1 to Human Relations (16 answers total)
Your delay does not suggest ingratitude. People understand you are grieving.

You don't have to write an epic, just a line or two: Dear [name], thank you for the [lovely card/beautiful floral arrangement/attending the service], I (or my father and I) deeply appreciate your support and kindness. Sincerely, kbar1

I found it easier to compose the notes by typing them all into a text file first, then copying the notes by hand onto the cards. Something about separating the task of composition from penmanship helped a lot in getting through it.

Try it on just one card. Work up to doing two a day, it's OK that they get done bit by bit. Before you know it, they will all be done.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by jamaro at 1:08 AM on October 8 [30 favorites]

It doesn't suggest ingratitude, I wouldn't expect a note at all. Please don't feel you need to write personalized messages. Perhaps you would like to borrow the Irish tradition of a memorial card which are sent/passed out with an implied "thanks for your thoughts/sharing in our loss".
posted by Iteki at 1:45 AM on October 8 [12 favorites]

First of all, you are right to want to send these notes. They're a way of cementing your relationships with the community, which are a source of ongoing comfort, so I encourage you to follow through.

Second of all, you have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. It is well known that responses take time, given that you probably have hundreds of them to write (as far as anyone knows). From the sender's point of view, yes you have to send them; from the recipient's point of view, you for obvious reasons cut the mourner some slack and count yourself lucky if you get a response at all.

Especially in your case, you have immediate and pressing obligations, so that's a legit reason for delay. You have absolutely nothing whatsoever to feel guilty about and no reasonable person is ever going to think you do.

Procedurally, I suggest following jamaro's method. I also find that typing a draft before I handwrite a letter makes it much easier.

I'm sorry for your loss and I wish for strength and upholding for you and your father. Blessed are those who mourn and weep, for they shall be comforted.
posted by tel3path at 1:57 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

Here in Ireland it is the custom to send out printed acknowledgement cards with a message on the lines of:
The family of the late Jane Doe thank you most sincerely for your kind expression of sympathy in their recent sorrow
(postal address)
I've received these at any time from a month to a year after funerals I've attended - people understand that grieving families need time to sort themselves out.
posted by Azara at 4:53 AM on October 8 [6 favorites]

I would not have any negative feelings towards you or your family if I received your note months after the funeral. People understand that grief manifests in many ways.
You've received good advice above. I think you will feel a measure of relief once you begin this task, and a great deal of relief when you complete it. Once you begin it may be easier than you imagine to complete it. Starting is the toughest part.
posted by bookmammal at 4:59 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

The rules are different when there was a death. Late wedding present thank yous? Not very cool. Late birthday present thank yous? Really, rather remiss. Late funeral flower and donation thank yous..... You get a complete pass on this one.

The only reason to send funeral gift thank you is to reassure the givers that you are now managing to cope with the earthquake that has devastated your family. You have been traveling somewhere between limbo and hell, possibly in a state of numbness that has made it seem rather a mundane journey. Nothing will ever be the same again.

When someone dies people move to a completely new place, and their physiological reactions are not polite, meek, grateful and punctual. Parents who loved each other dearly and who lose a child often find they loathe each other - it's a biological reaction that they struggle to overcome, amazed that their best friend who has done them no wrong, and who needs them has become insufferable. Some people react to bereavement by becoming sexually aroused. They stalk around, wanting to tumble onto the floor with someone - anyone, regardless of how well they know that person. Their biology has them yearning, driven foolishly to replace the lost member of their tribe. Other people disconnect. Other people become efficient and driven. Most people just think life is going on, because it is, but inside of them everything is changing. You were a daughter. Now you are no longer your mother's daughter. You have ceased to be that person. Your identity is changing. The basic person you are has been hit by this earthquake.

You get a free pass when someone has died. If you wanted to spend the funeral in the parking lot of the funeral home, adamantly alone, crying tears of rage and happiness during the funeral, that is completely acceptable. If you wanted to sit and eat cheese cake at three in the morning and laugh at old family pictures instead of getting enough sleep to be responsible the next day, that is completely acceptable. You get a free pass on this one.

That said, go ahead and write the notes when you are ready. They will be none the less appreciated if a year later someone gets a note, "Dear Auntie, the flowers that you sent were so lovely..." They may even be more appreciated if the person who sent the gift, learns that you remember and appreciate it months later.

Remember the reason for thank you notes and all that is not to meet a standard of etiquette but to touch the people around you, the way we hold hands at a funeral. You matter. I remember you. I feel your gesture of support. You are reaching your hands out to respond to the hands that were held out to you. And if you are not ready yet to take their hands - then that is where you need to be right now.

You are also allowed to send very short notes: "The roses were so beautiful. Kbar1" That will have more impact and meaning that, "Thank you for the beautiful flower arrangement that you send to mother's funeral. Your support at this time is greatly appreciated." They will know it is a thank you for the funeral flowers from the stationery that you use.

Consider just sending pictures of your mother - to those that loved her that would be meaningful.

You are now dealing with a double loss - you're still in the stage where they bring your casseroles, really, despite everything that you are managing. Don't feel bad about this. Do it when it makes you feel better. And if it is never going to make you feel better - don't do it at all.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:01 AM on October 8 [16 favorites]

Traditional etiquette in the U.S. is that you have a year after a wedding to send thank you notes. Surely the same grace can apply in this case.

Jamaro's script is excellent. And on preview, Jane the Brown is so so right.
posted by joycehealy at 6:09 AM on October 8

It doesn't suggest ingratitude, I wouldn't expect a note at all.

My mom died in July. My rule of thumb has been to personally acknowledge everyone who did something "above and beyond" (sent food, money, did chores, whatever) but not to send notes for people who came to the service or who sent cards. Not because I am not grateful but because I am grieving and buried in paperwork and people understand. And sometimes those acknowledgements are just an email. A sincere, heartfelt email but just a note letting them know I was grateful and how much their action meant to me. Please be kind to yourself, a lot of this is so hard. Maybe taking this in steps

- get stamps and envelopes
- address envelopes
- write one card

sorts of things may make it simpler. This is a thing you are doing because it is kind, and because you are kind, not because it is expected. You may find it helps pass the time as you manage what is going on with your dad. In answer to your direct questions

- I'd just thank them for their contribution "thank you for blabitybla when my mother passed" no apologies are necessary
- I'd mention what's up with your dad to very close friends and family, otherwise leave it out
- It is not an excuse at all that you are managing your father's care, it is a reason and a very real one at that.

Take care, I am sorry for what you've been managing this year.
posted by jessamyn at 6:18 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]

Do you have a friend who will sit down with you and help you get the job done?
posted by theora55 at 6:52 AM on October 8

I can't imagine judging someone for how or when (or if) they sent notes after a funeral. It's fine to keep them short and take your time.
posted by Mavri at 7:29 AM on October 8 [6 favorites]

Agree with the above, no judgement. Grieving is tough. I agree with the idea to do a short "template message" and ask a friend to help with the mechanics of addressing envelopes, stamping them, etc. in order to get it done (not because you have been remiss, but because it is weighing on you).

People will understand and appreciate the acknowledgment whenever it comes.
posted by rpfields at 7:42 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

I am sorry for your loss and for your dad's health problems. It really sounds tough.

I just want to say that my mum also died three months ago to the day and I ALSO haven't finished thank you cards and I too feel guilty about it. I realise that this is not advice and doesn't answer your question really but I am right there with you and it sucks.

What I opted for with the cards I HAVE sent is...
- I picked out two nice photos of my mum and had them printed through one of those online photo print things (photobox I think). I then made a stack of cards with them (probably about 40).
- .... Related to the above - I didn't agonise about thanking absolutely everyone - there were tons of people I didn't know at my mums funeral, and a lot of people who sent cards/flowers I didn't have contact details for so there's not much I can do about it.
- I ended up writing more or less the same thing in a lot of cards, which is honestly too cringy to write in this thread - but don't worry if you're kind of saying the same thing in a lot of them.
- I printed off one of the readings from my mum's funeral and enclosed that. I also thought of printing off a classic recipe of hers and sending it to special people but my brothers felt a bit protective of her recipes so I didn't.

Thank you for this question - it has inspired me to finish writing my own cards! I share your feeling that it's important to thank people, but I have no idea where the past three months have gone and when a lot of people get in touch it's a bit overwhelming - so genuinely don't beat yourself up.

I've gotten nice messages back from the people that I HAVE sent cards to (some of them have thanked me with further nice cards WHERE WILL IT END) so it seems like people are pretty understanding of this.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 8:54 AM on October 8

I'm sorry for your loss. It's possible I'm a bad human with weak social ties, but I would never expect a card after attending a funeral or otherwise contributing something, nor would I plan to send any myself. This is definitely an emotional labor piece I find unnecessary—I mention this not to judge you for feeling this obligation, but I guess just to say that I find it unlikely that people will judge you for having been unable to do it right away, as well as that anyone who were to judge you for it would be very much in the wrong.
posted by limeonaire at 8:59 AM on October 8 [7 favorites]

It would literally never occur to me to expect a thank you in these circumstances.

If you'd like a brief note, 'Thank you for your thoughtfulness when Mom passed' or 'Thank you for your support this year' is fine. No note would be fine, too. I would not expect any handwritten note referencing flowers or a casserole or whatever specific offering occurred.

And really, in my world, no card would be fine. I'd never even considered it until today and as someone who is almost certainly very soon to be in a similar position it's news to me that this would be expected of me following the loss of a parent, or of anyone...following the loss of anyone.

Clearly there are some widely varying expectations on this.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:02 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]

I give flowers and food to people who have suffered a loss in order to ease their burden, not increase it.

I would not in a million years be put out by a 'late' thank-you card, as I wouldn't be expecting one at all. And I say this as someone who's a bit of a stickler for thank-you cards on other occasions.

Please do whatever is easiest and feels best for you, but you absolutely have nothing to feel guilty about.

Sincere sympathy on your loss.
posted by Salamander at 2:01 PM on October 8 [5 favorites]

My mother took this task very seriously, helping her mother with the thank you notes after her father passed away. Out of respect for her, I did the same, helping my father when she passed and a few other times since.

Here are my personal guidelines:
Nobody should be expecting anything - the family is mourning and should get a free pass on such civil niceties as thank you notes.

Buy small cards so you can write just two sentences and sign it and looks complete.
Sentence 1: Thank you for whatever you did
Sentence 2: Express appreciation - the family appreciates your support/thoughts/prayers or it was nice to now that Mom was so loved or your help made this difficult time easier.
Start with the date and salutation, add a signature and you are done. This is not literature - even if it was just a blank piece of paper with a signature it will still the send the primary message - I noticed what you did and I am grateful - so don't sweat it.

It turns out I also have strong opinions about who should get a note. As a family member, it seems important to acknowledge people who did something really special and above and beyond to help out.
So these people get thank out notes:
- people who organize the funeral, the meal after and the shiva minyans
- people who did favors that made me feel very grateful - like making sure there was fresh milk in the frig when I returned home
- people who gave gifts to charity in honor of my family member
- people sent personal letters, sharing thoughts of the loved one
- people who bring food, especially entire meals
These people get letters if I know how they are, I have their address and I have energy
- people who bring a plate of cookies
- people who send flowers
These people get to know they did a good deed but don't get notes from me
- people who attended
- people who send condolence cards with just signature or a short message

Finally, I have sent out way more of these than I have received and it is ok - it is rare enough to get thank you notes, I honestly don't expect one for doing the right thing - show respect to the deceased and comforting the mourners. And I do believe the cards and food and flowers are important to do (even without thanks), now that I have been on receiving end, I appreciate how much these little gestures of condolence mean to the family and I am much more likely to do them for someone else.

TLDR - You don't have to do anything. If you do, you can focus on responding to the ones that moved you the most. And if you do, make it simple and minimal - it is the thought that counts here too.
posted by metahawk at 1:33 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

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