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Expressing sympathy: Cards, gifts, and their importance

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Expressing sympathy:
Cards, gifts, and their importance

Petro Maritz

The loss of a loved one is at the best of times a very disruptive and shocking experience. People often find it hard to express their sympathy towards friends or family who have just suffered a loss. It was only with the death of my father that I came to truly understand the value of expressing sincere sympathy.


I can still remember the confusion of those few days before and just after the funeral of my dad. People came and went, saying how sorry they were for our loss. People brought cards and gifts and sent truck loads of flowers.


I truly valued every hug and every card. Before the death of my father, I hated having to sympathize with people because I never knew what to say. Everyone just said that they are sorry and it seemed to me that it had become somewhat of a cliché. Since that horrible time in my life, I've came to the conclusion that saying it, is best.


With the funeral, I got a few unexpected responses. Through the complete chaos, some things stuck with me. An old friend of mine got to hear of the death of my father. We haven't spoken in years. Yet he phoned me and sympathized. He also took a day off work and drove a hundred miles just to attend the funeral. I cannot put into words what this meant to me. Although we haven't spoken since, I appreciate his gesture tremendously.


Another friend simply couldn't make it to the funeral. He tried to get out of his meetings but there was just no way. He compromised by attending all his meetings and then drove a hundred miles to be able to sympathize personally and give me a hug. I will forever treasure him as a true friend.


People who were not able to attend sent cards, and I loved it, because it meant that they cared. We received so many flowers that there was no place to put them all, and for weeks afterward I was continually reminded of the funeral because of them. The flowers confused me- one part of me hated to be reminded. And, another wanted to keep them alive for as long as possible because in a strange way it connected me with my dad.  Some people sent food, books and other gifts.


Each person experiences grief differently and therefore have different needs when it comes to their need for sympathy. From personal experience I set up a few rules that I follow when I sympathize with a friend:

  1. Do say it out loud, no matter how many people said it before.
  2. Make every effort you can to attend the funeral and to pay your respects. If you really cannot attend, send a card.
  3. Write the card personally and say what you feel, not what you think should be said.

In times of loss, sincerity and time are often the most valuable gifts that you can give.