Condolence cards from friends, family and colleagues are gracious, meaningful gestures during a sad, painful time in life. Answering condolence cards is a kind way to thank people for their consideration and sympathy. Knowing the etiquette for the situation can make the task easier on the bereaved and reduce the pressure of a family's perceived social responsibility.
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Everyone reacts to grief in different ways. Some people need the personal task of answering condolence cards to help them through a difficult time; others may not be able to face the job for weeks or months. Unlike other occasions requiring thank-you cards, there is no suggested time frame for answering written notes of sympathy. A grieving person should feel no pressure to send out thank-you notes until he is ready to do so.
Sharing the Task
If the volume of sympathy cards is more than expected or if the head of the household isn't emotionally ready to answer cards with personal messages, that person can designate other family members to deal with the task. To make sure the response is uniform, one simple message of thanks and acknowledgement can be used by each person when responding on behalf of the entire family.
Types of Answers
If members of the family have verbally thanked people for their written sympathy wishes, then a reciprocating card isn't required but remains a polite gesture. When a business sends a condolence card signed by several people, a received thank-you card will be posted in the office for everyone to see and feel that their gesture was acknowledged. For individuals, written thank-yous are appropriate for anyone who wrote a personal message of sympathy in a card.
Those who participated in the funeral or memorial service should always receive a personal thank-you to their condolence cards. This includes pallbearers, attendants and others who assisted in the service. Notes known as "Mass cards," or cards that signify a member of the church congregation contributed in the person's memory, do not require a written note of thanks.
Condolence cards that have only a printed verse or phrase and no personal message don't require answering with a written thank-you. The one exception to this is if the card accompanied flowers, plants, food, cash or other gifts meant to make the occasion bearable. A new trend is to leave messages of condolences online at a funeral home's website; these messages, while heartfelt, don't have the same impact as a physical card sent to the family and don't have to be followed up with a handwritten thank-you note.
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