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20-40-60 Etiquette: Comforting a friend after her husband's death
QUESTION: My friend lives in another state. Her husband recently committed suicide. I was in their wedding but hadn't seen them in a while. I realize that people respond differently to grief, but I am having trouble writing a card to her about her loss. Is there a kind way to let her know I really care? I just don't know what to say.
CALLIE'S ANSWER: If you're having trouble expressing your feelings on paper, call her. I am better on the phone or in person, and it will be just as appreciated.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Have you tried calling her? Sometimes a phone call to see how she's doing is a good way to reopen a dialogue in a friendship. And, even months later, a card is always a nice way to let someone know that you are thinking of her. But however you reach out to her, ask her how she's doing, and let her know she's still on your mind. Sometimes, I believe, it's even more important to hear from friends after the activity and flurry of people surrounding a person's death and the funeral quiets down. My gut reaction is that she will appreciate hearing from a friend anytime; even when routines return to normal after a death, that person's life still won't be. Don't let time be a stumbling block to letting your friend know you care. Grief lasts a long time.
HELEN'S ANSWER: That is a hard one and I know you care deeply about your friend and her loss. A card is always appropriate, and if you cannot think of anything to write, that is OK. Just send a sympathy card with the words already on it. It is important that she know you are thinking of her at this sad time.
GUEST'S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker who has taught etiquette classes at Oklahoma Christian University: This is a common problem. Sometimes there are not words to express our love or convey how much we are hurting for our friends and loved ones. My answer to this question comes from the perception of the recipient of those words, as I have been in the seat of the grieving myself and have had many clients who have, as well.
Based on my experience in this area, it is not the words that are said that helps heal the deep hurt the grieving are feeling.
It is the actions of love and service that are shown. Just sending the card will remind your friend that you love her, which will help her in her grieving process. No one has any magic words that take your friend's pain away.
I would encourage you to sign your name to the card and mail it. She will know you are thinking of about her in one of the hardest times in her life.
Callie Gordon is twenty-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. You'll also find a guest answer. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more 20-40-60 etiquette, go to blog.newsok.com/partiesextra.