No Thank You: New Rules About Thank You Notes After the Death of a Loved One

By guest writer, Catherine Tidd

I was brought up with a Southern mother who drummed into us the lesson that it doesn’t matter if someone gives you a diamond or a dandelion…thank you notes are a must. And for the most part, I completely agree. For whatever the gift or sentiment, the giver thought of you, took the time out of their day to give you something, and that action should be acknowledged.

Even now, with my kids as young as they are, I have them write their own thank you notes.  And I even have them write thank you notes to each other after a birthday or holiday.  We all know, that as the giver, it gives us a little smile to know that someone is enjoying the gift we gave them.

However… Immediately after the death of someone close to you, you’re either one of two things:  You’re running around manically trying to get a million things done at once so you don’t have to think about what’s going on, OR you’re laying in your bed, trying your hardest not to move just in case the grief monster is in the room, notices you, and plans a sneak attack.

Either way, you’re really not up for calmly sitting down and writing a thank you note for the potted plant someone brought to the funeral or the ham you never had the appetite to eat.  Because, in the grand scheme of things (and nothing gives us a glimpse into The Grand Scheme of Things like the death of a loved one…) compared to the size of your grief…is a thank you note really that important?

And don’t even get me started on the effort it takes to address the things.

When my husband died, a good family friend of mine was very forward-thinking and immediately set up a family fund at my bank so that people could contribute monetary gifts for the kids.  This was a great idea.  I personally didn’t get the checks (and, therefore, I didn’t lose the checks) and they were deposited in this account, safe and sound.

Except… The bank didn’t really keep track of who sent the checks.  Some of the employees kept the cards that came with them, some of them didn’t.  So, I had no idea where half of those checks came from.

[Enter panicky feeling here…]  I didn’t know where to send the thank you note.

Really?  My husband’s dead…and that’s what I’m worried about?

Now, I understand that part of the business end of the thank you note is just an acknowledgment that you’ve received the gift and that’s very important.  But for me to be completely stressed out, 3 weeks after my husband died, about thank you notes…is a little ridiculous.

I know I’m not the only person this has happened to.  About a year after he died, I was sitting with a new widow and the same thing had happened to her (with a different bank).   She looked exhausted as she explained the effort she had put into trying to track down who had sent what.  So that she could then research the person’s address and send them a 2 sentence thank you note acknowledging the gift.

Is it just me…or maybe she shouldn’t have had to worry about that when she was trying to figure out how she was going to raise a 2 year old daughter on her own after her husband had died instantly in a plane crash?

THEREFORE (and you know this is going to be big since I put it in capital letters): I am starting a new movement that I hope will catch on.

Thank you notes are not necessary after the death of a loved one.

For the gift giver…I have some suggestions:

  • If you’ve sent a check and you’re worried about whether or not it made it…check your bank and see if the check cleared.  If it did…we got it.  THANK YOU.
  • If you’ve ordered flowers and you want to make sure that they were at the funeral, ask someone who is attending (surely you must know somebody), and if they did…THANK YOU.  (This also applies to ham, little mini rose plants, and that bottle of scotch, which believe me…we appreciated.)
  • Know that any gift you have given…the gift of your time, your money, or your sympathy is greatly appreciated.
  • Know because you may not receive the actual thank you note in a timely manner, doesn’t mean we don’t know all that you have done for us.  We’re just trying to walk and breathe at the same time.  So putting pen to paper is not high on our list of priorities.

Since I have personally been through this, when I give someone a gift after a loss, I immediately say, “I don’t need a thank you note.  I know you got it.  I know it will be used.  Take me off your list.”

Even better…one of the sympathy cards (and checks) I did personally receive had a note in it that said, “Don’t write me a thank you note.  Take that time and do a puzzle with your kids.”

Now that’s a gift.

By guest writer Catherine Tidd; read more from Catherine at www.widowchick.blogspot.com

Photo Credit.

22 Comments:

  1. Felicia said on May 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm ... #

    My husband just passed away on March 5, 2013 completely unexpectedly. He was a healthy happy man who just turned 40 a couple of weeks ago. I want to write the thank you notes but feel overwhelmed. I am feeling the pressure to get them out in a timely manner. When are people expecting them…that kind of thing. I went online to see the proper etiquette in this situation. Thank you for making me feel better and I shouldn’t feel bad if they don’t go out right now or never. It’s hard enough to wrap my mind around the fact that my husband is gone and my 16 son just lost his father. God bless.

  2. Felicia said on May 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm ... #

    Oh my goodness. Major correction. I don’t know if I’m coming or going…My husband passed away on May 5th not March. Just to prove another point…thank you notes just seem meaningless when you are grieving.

  3. Angel Malone said on July 20, 2013 at 12:43 am ... #

    Definitely feel better knowing I’m not the only one who was worried about the Thank You notes. I mean, I told most everyone thank you in person anyways. The Thank You notes are sitting on a shelf along with the cards I received. I never even opened the box and now almost 6 months later I’m thinking- If they are upset about a thank you, then they have no idea why they sent me the gift in the first place. Thank You notes are for birthdays and showers.

  4. Shae said on August 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm ... #

    I am in love with this “campaign”. Whether it catches on or not, I will encourage people I know who are suffering a loss to embrace it. And I will personally, ALWAYS, include a note in all future gifts + cards I give/send. “Please don’t write me a thank you note. I know you got my gift and I know you appreciate it.”
    Great article and website. Thank you for creating and maintaining it.

  5. Ellen said on August 11, 2013 at 9:37 am ... #

    This morning, I started a search titled “verse for thank you card for sympathy gifts sent very late”. Your site is the first one to come up.

    My mother died September 19, 2012. One year is coming up. In November, I created a beautiful card with her photo inside the card someone has taken just one week before she became sick. One the front is of a lighthouse she loved to visit in New Brunswick. It took me a lot of time developing it.

    No one has received one of these cards yet. Now, the verse inside just isn’t applicable since it is so late.

    My husband and I just returned from vacation from where this lighthouse is. I really didn’t want to go away. We were supposed to go last year, but my mom got sick very suddenly the week before we were to leave. She wanted us to go but how could I with her being given only 2-3 months?

    So this year, we did go. The area is very beautiful but I kept seeing my mom in places we have visited together (we traveled with my mom & dad and then just my mom when dad died). In fact, they are the ones who took us there the first time (we both have travel trailers and camp). She was everywhere I looked. I guess that keeps her close in my heart.

    In July, the Postal Service came out with lighthouse stamps. I went to the small town’s post office and bought them. I sent about 11 postcards with “her” lighthouse on the front and used the stamp of a lighthouse she had visited. I asked the post office to hand cancel the stamps. The 11 cards went to the very special people in my mom’s life (and mine), each was personalized with a few lines of where we were, how hard it is for me being there and implied a thank you to them. They all knew of this lighthouse and her fondness for it.

    I still WANT to send my thank yous but now I don’t feel thank I have to send them before her first year anniversary, which is coming up very fast.

    If anyone reads this, I also want to say that I am crying as I type this as it still hurts so much and miss her so much. Some days are ok, but times like this, it is very hard.

    Thank you so much for this article. It has helped me so much.

    Also, I am very sorry for the loss of all the people who have posted here. I can’t even imagine the loss of a child that some have experienced. All loss is devastating. I hope everyone has a support system that can be relied on.

    Take care.

  6. margaret said on August 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm ... #

    Thank you all so much. My 35 year old son died on March 25 of myelofibrosis. We were so hopeful that he would get better as a bone marrow match had been found for him. He developed a lung infection which he was unable to conquer. I have been worrying so much about sending thank-you cards but like many others, everytime I try to get to it the waves of sadness wash over me and I can’t see for the tears. You have all made me feel so much better about this. The grief is so all consuming that writing these notes is not the priority that I thought it to be. My heart goes out to all of you. God Bless

  7. Alyson said on August 22, 2013 at 6:34 am ... #

    oh, thank you SO MUCH for this article (and this site) I was just sitting here looking at a stack of thank you notes my husband and I need to write out. Our 3 week old son died of SIDS on Aug 2nd and my mom made me a list of who did what/brought what/gave what and the thought of writing out this stack of notes is overwhelming and heartbreaking. I have been sitting here stressing about them for over a week now — I was able to write one to everyone that sent money and am now down to people who sent flowers, food, helped, etc and it’s just too much, someone told me I should send a thank you to everyone that sent me a card and I busted out crying.

    Grieving is exhausting in itself. This article has helped take a little bit of the stress off of myself.

  8. Andonia said on August 26, 2013 at 1:23 pm ... #

    Thank you for your article. I am also comforted by the other comments from the other people. Two years ago, my 33 year old son (my heart and my pride) died suddenly. I thought I would break. I didn’t. Life has a way of going on. Then 2 months ago, my second son, age 28, died suddenly. (Heart attack? I believe he died of a broken heart from his older brother’s death). These tragedies gave our friends a chance to show their kindness (and bravery to be around us…folks shy away at times). I continue to thank them…verbally, e-mail or the occasional letter…but only in my own time (as my heart heals and my brain clears a little). I will continue to thank them….but only a few at a time and over a long period of time. They will understand…or they will learn to understand. And life is about learning. Thank you, again.

  9. Barb said on August 28, 2013 at 6:45 pm ... #

    My 35 yr old daughter died on July 27,2013 from an apparent overdose of prescription drugs. I have been overwhelmed with moving her house into my little townhouse and have been nonstop doing it since 2 days after her funeral. Ihave had very little downtime to even mourn her. I sent out the majority of thank you cards that came from the funeral home, ran out of them but haven’t sent the remainder which are from the people I work with who were very supporting. I feel horrible that I haven’t gotten cards out to these people & am a embarrassed also. The guilt I carry regarding my daughters death and now the guilt of not getting everyone thank you cards out is very depressing. It is nice to read that people understand and that I am not to late to send these out. Thank you.

  10. Jennifer said on August 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm ... #

    Like so many of you that have written here, I too lost my 37 year old son in an accident in June of this year. I want to send cards but have not been able to. I pray that God blesses each and everyone here who has suffered a loss that your heart will heal and you will someday be able to enjoy your fond memories of your loved ones.

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  12. Debbie said on January 13, 2014 at 2:30 am ... #

    I was in line at my Husbands viewing when a woman came up and asked if I received the fruit basket she sent. She couldn’t even wait till after the viewing. I spent the next week filling out 157 thank you notes,2 weeks before Christmas this year.
    I wish I didn’t have to but I think there is always someone expecting a card.

  13. Timéa said on January 16, 2014 at 1:46 am ... #

    Thank you for this. My husband passed away late 2012. Friends set up a trust fund for us and like your story I was unable to track who generously gave what. Also, the whole year was a complete blur. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say Thank You. I know better late than never but I wouldn’t even know where to start!! Thank you for your insight I guess everyone knows deep down inside we thanked them.

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  15. Twyla said on April 24, 2014 at 6:46 am ... #

    whoah this weblog is excellent i love reading your posts.

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    are looking round for this information, you can help them greatly.

  16. P. Roth said on October 22, 2014 at 5:00 am ... #

    I was just sitting here feeling guilty that I didn’t send out thank you notes after my husband died 4 months ago from bladder cancer. I’m only 52 yrs. old and my husband always did so much for me. My life as I knew it is gone forever and I have to start all over. again. I so agree with the comments that it shouldn’t even be a priority for the grieving person to write out notes. There is just way too many things to deal with, including emotional upset, financial stress., and just trying to struggle with a whole new way of life.
    It’s such a relief to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  17. Curtis Benjamin said on November 7, 2014 at 2:18 pm ... #

    Here is what I do for people grieving as tracking down an address can be very time consuming or you may have the wrong address even. I simply write my address and phone number after the signature for their records. I could care less if I get a thank you card back personally but there are times people look back through the cards and want to contact that person for some reason.

  18. Scott said on January 6, 2015 at 12:30 am ... #

    Thank you for this. I found it a little more than a year after my wife’s suicide when I was wrestling with whether to send thank you notes to half a dozen people that had sent donations to the selected charities more than two months after her death, when I had already written about 70 notes. It reassured me that sending notes a year later was fine, and also that not sending notes to those that provided meals for me and my two children was also ok. This post put things in perspective for me

  19. Laura Kelly said on January 13, 2015 at 10:40 pm ... #

    I will have lost my Dad a year ago on Jan. 23,2015 in a car accident. I am happy I found this blog. My mother is beating herself up about not getting thank you cards out. My Mom struggles everyday with losing her husband of 45 years so suddenly and tragically. I truly believe friends and family and anyone who took the time out to send a card,flowers or whatever may be don’t really care about a card. They just love you and the love one you lost.

  20. Mary said on February 9, 2015 at 5:10 pm ... #

    Thank you for writing this blog. I’m so grateful to have found it today. My husband of 22 years died (soon to be one year ago) suddenly leaving me and my two teenage sons less than an hour of being taken to the ER. I continue to be overwhelmed by the fact that I simply have not been able to send a thank you note. This simple act of acknowledgement seems as though it would make his death our reality (I realize that’s not the case). Although I still feel the need to send thank you notes, I don’t feel quite as guilty after having read your blog and the comments from others who have also lost their loved ones.

    Sincerely,
    Mary

  21. Bridget said on February 14, 2015 at 10:40 am ... #

    My mom recently died and I am struggling with thank you notes. Fortunately I found a recent directory of the church, with member addresses, that mom attended. Also, bless the florists who put acknowledgement addresses on the cards sent with the flowers!! The other addresses I will locate in due course. Thank you for putting this into perspective.

  22. Donna said on February 28, 2015 at 11:30 am ... #

    THANK YOU, Catherine, for putting our thoughts into words for all to see and hopefully understand. Losing a loved one is devastating, whether it’s a spouse, child, parent or friend. The sadness and depression is overwhelming and all-consuming. No one who is grieving should be EXPECTED to write these notes. It should be an option. Funeral homes should offer them as an option, rather than making us feel like we are obligated to send them. At the end of the services, doesn’t the funeral director say something like, “The Smith family would like to thank everyone for attending….” Then, there may be a Repast that everyone is invited to. Isn’t this the family’s way of thanking people? Shouldn’t either of these suffice? If it doesn’t, it should not weigh on the grieving family…we have had enough to bear. This should be accepted as the new etiquette.

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