How to Pick the Perfect Condolence Card

After my husband died, like any other new young widow, I was inundated with condolences… flowers, messages and cards to name a few.  The girls and I moved in with my parents after Kevin’s death so all these flowers and cards went to their house.  It smelled like a funeral home due to the sheer number of bouquets in the house.  There was one waiting to greet you at every corner.  I never liked lilies before Kevin died, and I most certainly don’t now.  Why is the flower with the strongest, most cloying scent the one that is so prevalent in condolence arrangements??  It smells like death to me.  That scent filled the days and weeks after my husband died.  I can’t unsmell that memory.  The smell of a lily will now forever take me back to that hellish time.  The mantel in my parent’s living room groaned under the weight of the ever increasing pile of condolence cards.  I would walk by the room and catch a glimpse of this physical representation of the outpouring of sadness for me and tears would well up in my eyes.  (and a sneeze in my nose due to the god damn lilies!).  I have saved every single one of those cards, and have them carefully boxed up in my ‘Kevin’ memory box in my room.

However, there are a few that I kept out on display and still have not yet put away.  These cards are cards that say it like how it fucking is.  This cards don’t contain poetry and images of oceans or birds or some shit like that. There are no pretty metaphors about death and the afterlife and all that hallmark bullshit.  They are real, honest and came from the hearts of my friends.  And fucking  funny.  The first one I received was from a dear friend from high school and when I opened it, I literally laughed out loud.  And at that point, I don’t think I had laughed wholeheartedly since Kevin died.  This card caused a sincere smile to warm my face and made me genuinely laugh.  Rare things in the early days after your husband dies unexpectedly.  What a gift.

happens for a reason

Seek this card out.  Buy in multiples.  Keep on hand for future occurrences when you need to send a condolence card.  It is perfect.  It recognizes that some (*cough*alot*cough) of the things people say to comfort you are in fact bullshit.  Losing my husband when I was 41, and when our kids were 5 and 2 did not happen for a reason.  It is not part of god’s plan for me.  It did not happen because god gave me the strength to cope.  It did not happen in order for my husband to go to a better place.  It happened because life sucks sometimes.  Life is hard and cruel and unfair.  And I got handed more than my fair share of the shit sandwich of life.  A card that recognizes how unhelpful and hurtful a phrase like “things happen for a reason” is gold for a young widow.

I received many other gems too.  Each one made me smile or reminded me that yes, I AM doing this.  I’m surviving and learning how to live again.  Many of them simply recognized that this period in my life is SHIT.  And that’s okay.  And my people are with me in the shit.  So they sit on my kitchen window sill to inspire me, to comfort me and to motivate me each day in this new widow life.  And I have two kids, who are disgustingly messy and constantly eating, so needless to say I spend A LOT of time at the kitchen sink cleaning up.

window sill
Providing comfort to someone who is grieving is so hard, and most of us do it terribly.  We try and say things to make it better, to make the person less sad, to lessen the awkwardness.  But we fumble at every turn.  Platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” can hurt more than they help.  A simple “I’m sorry.  I can’t make this better for you.  I love you so much”  goes along way.  As does a card that says “Fuck you 2016”.  Or maybe that is just me?  Either way, know your audience.

fuck you 2016

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3 thoughts on “How to Pick the Perfect Condolence Card

  1. This is a wonderful post, and those are some wonderful cards. We are so bad at supporting grief in this society.

    I was on the receiving end of quite a few “things happen for a reason” comments after my father’s accident, and I have to say I was pretty bloody rude to anyone foolish enough to let something like that come out of their mouth in my presence.

    I think people say these things as a form of coping mechanism. It’s not so much about you as it is about them (although I don’t think they mean to be selfish or obtuse). We’re conditioned as humans to believe in a particular narrative for our lives- if we work hard and we are good people, we get to have good lives. When something catastrophic catapults us out of that narrative (or strips off the veneer, or pulls the rug out from under us, or whatever metaphor you like) we are forced to confront the awesome meaningless of the universe and (especially) the utter randomness of our own existence.

    We’re not designed to cope with that kind of realization as a species. So we stick to the narrative until we’re forced to see it as the lie we tell ourselves. I’ve seen this over and over in the books I’ve been reading (like in Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning or Mary Elizabeth Williams’ A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles)- that moment where your world has fallen apart and yet everything around you is just carrying on like nothing has happened, because, in the grand scheme of the universe, nothing meaningful has happened. But you can’t ever cross back to the obliviousness of before.

    I think when people say things like “everything happens for a reason” they are reasserting the truth of the lie for themselves. Because if there wasn’t a reason, then they too would have to realize that life is random and there isn’t some set amount of bad stuff that can happen to any one person and you don’t necessarily get good stuff to make up for the bad stuff. If they don’t HAVE to live their lives understanding this, they don’t want to. So they assert that there must be meaning or purpose behind this tragedy. I saw this when I would tell people how my Dad’s accident happened- the look in their eyes (before it crossed over into pity) was always stark, naked fear. Because if Dad had been doing something dangerous, like body surfing or diving into shallow water, then they could make sense of his accident. But his accident was completely, entirely, unbelievably random and it could have happened to anyone. Telling someone about his accident would always force them to confront the lie, because his accident was random and meaningless and purposeless…just like the universe. So I would see the fear, and then they could make the change to pity and, let’s face it, relief, because it didn’t happen to them and they didn’t have to live it.

    It sucks to be on the other side. But we’re not there alone.

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  2. I hate the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” No, it doesn’t. More than once, I have had to stifle the urge to respond to that phrase with a succinct “go fuck yourself.” I know that people mean well when they say shit like this, but ugh, I just don’t understand why anyone thinks that’s a comforting thing to say.

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