Late condolences, a slight variation
May 31, 2023 1:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I best send my condolences to a co-worker when their spouse passed almost 3 months ago? I have a lovely card but have been dithering, procrastinating, overthinking, and genuinely forgetting to write it... now I'm worried it is almost offensively late.

I've read all the previous AskMe's on this topic, but I feel this is an important variation, since I knew of this death at the time it happened but didn't acknowledge it at that time. I was uncertain about attending the service and decided against it, as a large group of work friends attended, many of whom (unlike me) actually knew the spouse, and I felt I would be intruding somehow. I am not close to this co-worker and don't interact with them often, although they are a wonderful person I feel warmly about, and as far as I know, they have been on leave ever since their spouse passed. I was thinking of a simple message like, "I am sorry this card is late but I wanted you to know I am thinking of you and so very sorry for your loss." Do I need to mention the "late" bit or does that sound like I'm trying to make it about me and my forgetfulness?

Sorry for the overthinking. I know I want to express my condolences and support - I've regretted not doing so in the past, mainly out of genuine ignorance about what the "right" thing to do was and what would be welcome to the bereaved party at that time. I think about that omission often, and had hoped to do better going forward.
posted by Weng to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Drop the apology. I guarantee you that your coworker hasn't forgotten their spouse has passed. Three months really is very little time. Remembering and expressing genuine condolence is a kindness, no matter when it comes.

You can add something like, "you and your family have been in my thoughts a lot lately" if you want to make small acknowledgement that some time has passed.
posted by phunniemee at 1:47 PM on May 31 [60 favorites]

Best answer: I've heard that there is often an initial outpouring of support for the bereaved, and then... little or nothing. Your note, or small remembrance, could arrive at a good time.
posted by amtho at 1:50 PM on May 31 [59 favorites]

Also, anyone you regret not reaching out to in the past? You still can. They are obviously still on your mind, still in your thoughts. A classy way to do that is to send a note (rather than a sympathy card) saying that you were recently reminded of their loved one. Share a specific memory you have of them. Close with your fond remembrance.

It's always appropriate to express our care for each other. The world is harsh.
posted by phunniemee at 1:53 PM on May 31 [25 favorites]

“This note was so hard for me to write. So, I hope you can forgive both the lateness and the inadequacy of words in response to your loss.”

I am on team send-late.
posted by Silvery Fish at 1:55 PM on May 31 [9 favorites]

I have sent many notes "late" for many events. They've still been appreciated and I think especially so for people who are going through something hard. Send it, and there is no need to apologize.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:00 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this seems like something where you can use the situation to your advantage. You meant to write sooner, but this is such a massive loss that you didn't know what to say/anything you said would seem trivial. Let them know you're still thinking of them.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:10 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Try hard not to center your own feelings of shame or guilt about not reaching out. It's always fine to write a card like this, especially in the time frame you mean.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:10 PM on May 31 [16 favorites]

I think you can certainly apologize for being late -- or not. It's definitely not necessary, but if you do include it, it's not suddenly making it "all about you." If it were me, I might feel the need to simply acknowledge the lateness but then quickly move on to the heart of the matter. And that's what will stick with her. Your card, whatever you say, will be deeply appreciated. There's no wrong here.
posted by swheatie at 2:27 PM on May 31 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, my spouse died early in 2022.

There is no best way to send your condolences . The pain was and is immeasurable and not always understood by others. So just send it when you can or remember to do.

No one can fix the pain that they're experiencing, but small gestures of love and support matter. Send the card, even if you think it's late.

I got a text message from a co-worker 4-5 months after my wife passed. It was all of 2 lines, but it made me feel better to know that someone was sending comforting thoughts my way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:29 PM on May 31 [42 favorites]

If you were close to this person, such that there might be expectations of support right at the time of the funeral, I would think a very brief apology might be merited. Since you weren't, a card will be a kindly gesture at any time.
posted by praemunire at 2:42 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My brother died 2 years ago this month. My parents just got the most beautiful letter from a friend of his we've never met. It gave us such comfort to know that people besides us still think of him and miss him. Send it.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:21 PM on May 31 [21 favorites]

I'm also Team Send. When someone dies, people shower you with sentiments while you're in shock and dealing with logistics, and really for many of us it's the shock and the logistics that support you through the immediate thing to begin with. Now, six weeks later, three months later, one year later, on the other hand, no one wants to bring it up or ask what you are going through, when in fact this is the very time many people need more support. I am sure your words will be welcome and will not require explanation or apology.
posted by kensington314 at 3:57 PM on May 31 [13 favorites]

A mentee and friend of mine died several months ago during a time when I was dealing with far too much and I haven't sent condolences yet to their families and I couldn't attend the remembrance ceremonies. People get worried if their loved ones are forgotten, so do send, it's a great kindness. And feel free to ask how they are regularly, as to not make it feel taboo.
posted by yueliang at 4:02 PM on May 31

3 months is nothing in grief-time. I’m gonna come out against apologizing as it’s not an apology card and you don’t have anything to be sorry for because you’re not even late in grief-time.

The important thing is this person lost their spouse so the important thing for you to note is that you’ve been thinking of them and you’re so sorry for that loss.
posted by kapers at 4:08 PM on May 31 [11 favorites]

Do send - as others have noted, this really will matter to the recipient.
Do not apologize. This card/note is not about you, your timeliness, or your guilt.
Also, I found recently, that there’s no such thing as a “perfect message”. Even “Thinking of you” counts. That you went to the effort of buying a card, writing a note, addressing the card, putting a stamp on it, and mailing - all of that counts nearly as much as the message.
posted by dbmcd at 4:27 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

Best answer: it means more when it comes a little later. most people offer conventional condolences right when someone dies, because you're supposed to, and a week later they're not sorry anymore, they barely remember. or it seems that way to the bereaved. but when you send a card or note months "late," it means you've been thinking about the lost person all that time, same as they have. that means a lot to a person, to feel like they aren't the only person who hasn't forgotten.

don't apologize, but if you feel you have to, only apologize for not saying anything before now. don't apologize for being late, as if you missed an event or an arrival time. there is no late for this. the spouse is still dead, they always will be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:53 PM on May 31 [11 favorites]

My dad died unexpectedly after a brief illness a year ago this month. Agree with everyone upstream who said that a remembrance and expression of shared loss would still be deeply meaningful.

Everyone is different, but depending on how hard your note hits they may not have the emotional strength left to respond. I wouldn't, most likely. So just flagging not to expect a response, but please send it anyway
posted by foodmapper at 5:14 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

I wouldn’t send the condolence card; but I might just send a card to reach out and to let co-worker know you are thinking about them.

You stated that you didn’t know the deceased and don’t really know the coworker well.

While I was moved by friends sending remembrances, especially friends that i didn’t know, hearing from my coworkers remarking on my sibling’s passing wasn’t something I wanted.

I felt a bit more gracious to quick notes saying “hello” or “hope you are well” during my lengthy time out.
posted by calgirl at 5:18 PM on May 31

Yes, do send it! And no need to apologize unless you really want to. Say you've been thinking of them so much these past three months, that's meaningful and genuine! The rush of support right away after a loved one's death is amazing; however, with time it understandably wanes. Of course, the grieving person is still grieving and thinking of their loved one often. Therefore, a message is much appreciated! And the nice thing about a card is that they can choose to read it or not, reply or not reply, etc. You're very thoughtful and so many of us can relate to your situation!
posted by smorgasbord at 5:40 PM on May 31

Remove all apology about the lateness, because that’s dumping your own anxiety on her.

Just say something like “I just wanted to reach out because I’ve still been thinking of you.”
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:52 PM on May 31 [6 favorites]

I lost a spouse several years ago. A card three months after the fact would have been completely welcome. You can apologize or not; I don't think it really matters either way. But do go ahead and send.
posted by jeoc at 6:42 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Just adding to the choir that encouraged you to send a note but to not apologize or mention your difficulty in reaching out etc. I think a simple note that you wanted to let them know you have been thinking of them and wishing them comfort is sufficient. Also, think about if there is anything practical you can offer to ease their transition back from leave. 3 months is a long absence from work. Offer to take on a concrete task if appropriate, or grab lunch when they feel up to it.

When I returned from just a week out due to major loss, I so appreciated the colleague who came by, said he was sorry to hear about it quickly, and then asked if it would be helpful for him to do one of my tedious, detail-oriented timely tasks so I could focus on other things. I was so appreciative. I also appreciated the person who sent an email that said let me know if you ever want to take a lunchtime walk in the park. I didn't think I would take them up on it but by the end of that first week back, I sure did. Coming back is really hard.
posted by fies at 6:59 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

It is much better to send it late than not to send it. I do this, too.
Dear CoWorker, I have been thinking of you often, the loss of Spouse is, well, I can't imagine how difficult it is. Anecdote about spouse, work, coworker if there's anything useful. My deepest condolences, Weng

If you know when Coworker is returning, you could get a v. small vase or jar, put in a few small flowers, leave it on their desk. Truly, the way to learn to procrastinate best is to do this, stop beating yourself up and try to be a little more prompt next time. With condolences, the thought really does count.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all. I’ve marked a few best answers that resonated most, but appreciate every comment :-)
posted by Weng at 4:13 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When there is a death in the family the bereaved get a rush of casseroles and phone calls and loving notes and people asking "Is there anything I can do..?"

Two weeks later it's thrown-to-the-wolves time and aren't-you-over-it-yet. Three months later they get while-we-do-understand-that-there-was-a-dip-in-your-performance-in-March-due-to-your-personal-circumstances... The sympathy peters out. The support disappears. If they are lucky they get a pointed request for a late returning casserole dish covered up by a "How are you doing?"

Worse yet, as the days go on, for many people the loss gets worse, as the numbness that got them through the first crisis of dealing with the death wears off, and they realise that they really can't go on a modified version of their annual summer holiday with the kids, not without their spouse to do the driving; and they can never use their back door again because their spouse is the only one who knew the trick of jiggling the lock so the tumbler goes back into place. Also they still have to deal with the old desktop in the study that their spouse used to use and which might not have anything critical on it. And they will never get a bristly middle of the night kiss again. And the pain is still there resounding and rebounding as everything in their life still shakes down but if they tell anyone about it, they get thin impatient sympathetic smiles.

Send the card as if you just bought it, acknowledging how they still need and deserve support. They got triaged, they got some immediate care, and now.... they will spend the rest of their life in rehab. "I know that going forward without Sam is still hard... However well you are managing now, I want you to know that your struggle is in my thoughts..."
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:40 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]

A late reply to your question on lateness.

My spouse died a little over three months ago, and it's a deeply sad and lonely life like I've never experienced before. At the same time, it's old news for most others, even sweet folks who were so helpful initially. Any gesture at all - card, note, call, text, even a smile from a stranger on the street, are so appreciated in this weird harsh new world where everything has shifted.

Send the card. Spread kindness whenever you can.
posted by MelissaSimon at 7:16 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

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