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Even some Examples!

So you're at a loss for words?
You've got to sit down and actually write a note?
You can't email. You can't leave a voice message.
No, it's got to be a hand-written note. Help!

Why? The answer is because although we live in a high-tech society, there are many times when sending a real, hand-written note in the mail is not only the proper and polite thing to do, but it is just "the" correct thing to do. And unfortunately, in some cases today, buying a pre-worded card and simply signing it, is considered insensitive.

So what to do? It's hard enough if you know the person, but if you don't know them well, it makes it even worse.
What to say?

This page is very long. Here's a quick jump to get to special needs:

In today's world, we still need to feel in touch with others. And because of this, we want to be touched with a real communication. We want to hold it! We want to see handwriting!  We want to display it on our mantels and tables as a sign someone cares about us. We do not want E-mail or E-greeting cards!  And we certainly don't always want a voice mail message. :(

But the art of writing a note for times such as birthdays, thank-you notes for Christmas, Bar Mitzvah, First Communions,  or to someone who helped you in some way has seemed to have evaporated from today's society? Only  those who sent gifts or money during family deaths, graduations or weddings  seem to write a hand-written card with their gift or receive one as a thanks for the gift, today.  And, yet we long to find a friendly piece of communication amongst the bills and junk mail don't we?

 Tips for Writing A Personal Note - Just to Communicate :)

The key to a good note is to let the person feel that you are really thinking of them.  A good note keys into the person it's being sent to and reflects a special connection.  (If you're writing to someone you don't know well, this is even harder. But I'll get to that later.)  

1. Don't write the note when you haven't got a lot of time to think and write. You need to stop and contemplate about who the person is you are writing to. Do not write, "Dear Aunt." It's best to always use the person's name. Write, "Aunt Maria" instead. Or if you are writing to someone that you know their nickname, write that. Put down, "Dear JellyBean" or "Hi There Soccer Mom."

2. If possible, try to connect with someone via an event that you know about that's going on in their lives. For example start out with: " Dear Jean, I realize your eyes will be blood shot and you'll probably fall asleep reading this from lack of sleep, but I wanted to congratulate you on the adoption of your new baby boy. Happy Motherhood!"  

3. Or focus in on a person's hobbies that you know about. Or even their weaknesses (i.e. shopping, chocoholics, gardening, cooking, etc.) So you could begin a letter with: "Dear Mark, So have you crashed any more remote control airplanes this past year? Have you considered kite flying instead? "  

4. If you're sending a gift, key into it and explain why you bought it for that person. For example: "Dear Carla, I decided to send you this "Vanille Cafe" perfume by Comptoir Sud Pacficque because the smell reminded me of all the times we sat at Starbucks where I talked and you listened to all my troubles. Remember?"  

5. If you're living in two different parts of the country (or world) now, sometimes you don't really need to write much if something of common interest appears in your paper. You could send an article about an old classmate or something and simply say, "I don't have time to write, but I knew you'd be interested in this newspaper article." You're still making that personal connection through the article even though you do not write much.  

6. Use lists of imaginary gifts, as a way of saying that if you could be there you'd be giving them. For example: "Hi Miss Red Nose," I hear you've had big problems shaking the Flu bug this year? Well, I'm wish you a nice big bowl of chicken soup, peppermint tea, and 6 boxes of Kleenex. Hurry up and get well because your desk is horrendous with work."

7. Sometimes using a quote helps break the ice to start a note to someone.  For example: "Dear Sarah, Mae West said, "I like my men two ways...Domestic and Imported." Congratulations on your engagement. But which one is this guy you tell me you're going to marry?"

8. Use real and natural conversation in your note. Do not write, "Congratulations on the birth of your new daughter." That sounds stiff, dull and rather impersonal. Instead write something you'd normally say if you standing at her side such as: "You just can't beat the smell of newborns to bring a smile to your face. I'm so thrilled about the birth of _______ (name of baby). I'm sure she/he is bringing a big smile to your face right now as I write this."

Exception: Do not use such real conversation that your greeting ends up tacky. One of my pet peeves in today's society is the word "sucks." It seems that's the only adjective people use. Are we lacking dictionaries and thesaurus in our lives? If you're a younger person and say a friend of yours was killed in a car accident or some other tragedy, please do not verbally or in writing use the hip language you normally say at a time like this.

For example:  "I'm sorry to hear about the death of your brother. To lose someone at such an early age is such a loss to everyone, even those who would have known him in the future. People who drink and drive are idiots. And it really sucks that the drunk who hit your brother lived and he died. I am so sorry. Anytime you want to talk, give me a call." You might think that's being helpful, but when there is a family drama, it's best to say nothing. Or if you feel you must and are at a loss, then just say, "Hey, I don't know what to say? I'm overwhelmed!"

9. Try to use a joke if possible that will work to open up a letter. This is especially true if you're going to be talking more about yourself than focused on who you are writing to.  For example:   "Knock, Knock. Who's There? Sam and Janet. Sam and Janet who? Sam and Janet Evening."   "Dear Rick, Let me tell you, the blind date I told you about was hardly an enchanted evening. It all began...."

10. Closing a letter all depends on how well you know someone. Many use "Love." But today that word doesn't really express true feelings and in some cases can cause misunderstandings. So people often replace love with a lighter "Luv" as it's not too emotional as LOVE! Or they will use "Warmly" or "Fondly" or "Affectionately" or even "Consider yourself kissed goodnight" or "Imagine being Kissed on the Cheek Right Now."

Tips for Writing Birthday Notes  

Birthdays are one of those days that are always personal to the one celebrating. Depending on what year it is, it can be just like any other day or a real milestone in a person's life. (i.e. turning 18, 40, 50 etc.)  So, when writing a birthday greeting (inside a card or alone) it's important to get in touch with the person you're sending it to and think about how they're taking the birthday they are having. 

It's also important to consider what's going on in their lives at the time of the birthday.  If they've just gotten a promotion at work, it's double fun. If, however, they've just had a close death in their family, they may not be in the mood for a silly birthday card or remarks about getting old and dying.

It's also important to take into account *why* are you sending this birthday greeting. Do you really like this person?  Do you feel obligated because it's a relative or co-worker? Or do you do it because they sent you one?

But the best advice in writing someone a note on their birthday, no matter how close you know them or not, is to try to make them feel that they are special, unique and one-of-a-kind.  Why? Unless you both have the same birthday, in their eyes they feel  really are special!   You can be witty and say, "Age is just a state of mind. But in your case, your mind is as sharp as ever and I've always enjoyed hearing your view points, which get even better each year. This year let's try to keep in touch more."

Or you could write something more gracious such as: "You're the most caring and self-accepting person I know. You're my Soul Sister (or Bro Buddy). I wish you a great birthday and a great year ahead, especially if I can be a part of it."

Another angle is not to remark about the person but about your friendship. "We can choose our friends, but we inherit our relatives.  With you, I would have chosen you as my niece even if you weren't inherited.  We are like two peas in a pod and I feel we are more friends than family."

Or you can try to recall a past birthday and bring it into the present. "Every time it's your birthday, it makes me remember all the great birthday parties you gave me when I was growing up.  I especially remember....."

If it's possible to make your own card, that is great.  But if you have to go and buy one, don't just grab the first one you see.  Take time to shop for a card that fits the person you are going to send it to. 

And, no offense to all those charities that freely send out cards as a favor for a donation.  But to me, if you send a card that you've received "free" and says some charity on the back, that isn't really sending a true greeting.  It's more self-promotion. How?  To me it shows you were too cheap to buy a card and used a free-bee.  Or, you want to self-promote yourself as a giving person to Charity X, and yet you failed to take time and money to buy this person a card (or even a gift). Well, duh?  I seriously do not recommend sending out those free cards for really any occasion...birthdays, Christmas, condolences, etc.

Tips for Writing  Anniversary Notes  

With so many divorces, for a couple to accomplish staying together is truly to be recognized!  And, the longer they have remained together, the greater the honor.  Life is a journey. It's better if you have someone with you.  There are two ways to write Anniversary Notes.  

One is to the person you are married to.

The other is to the couple from your outside perspective.

If you are writing from an observing viewpoint, then write your note on how the marriage of these two people (mom and dad, friends, etc.) have looked to you. Or, how it's set an example for yourself and perhaps others?  Here is an example: "Dear ___ and ____, You two have made the word "commitment" seem like a walk in the park. The respect and support that I see you always give to each other clearly reflects more than love.  It shows intelligence. Yes, it shows that the smartest thing you ever did was to marry one another."

Many times a couple gets married, especially for the second time, that under our breaths we silently mumble, "It's never going to last." And yet, it does! So when their anniversary comes around and you get invited and must bring a gift, what do you write?  Certainly not, "Boy was I wrong!" For those whose marriages seemed doomed for one reason or another (May-September relationship,  remarriages, interracial marriages, teenage marriage, etc. ) to you or others, there is only one great way to write a note to them. And that is to rejoice that they work as a team, regardless of what the opinions of others are.  Here is an example: "Dear ___ & ____, We all know marriage isn't easy. But you two have certainly shined these past __ years as one great team in spite of it all. You've accomplished so much and created such a great family to be proud of. I wish you many more victories over challenges ahead. " Or "Dear ___ & ___, You two have had some rocky times. But no matter what, you're remained best friends and in love. You certainly know the secret formula for keeping love alive. I just wish you'd share it with the rest of us!"

When writing a note to your spouse on your anniversary, there are just a few simple things to help make it a bit warm and personal:

1.  Bring up the good past.  How you met? Some great date?

2.  Recall your wedding day.

3.  Show Appreciation in all the work and sacrifice.

4.  Bring up some of the reasons you fell in love with your spouse.

5.  If you feel OK with it, get a bit well. risqué. ;)

Tips for Writing Births ( New Borns) and Adoption Notes  

The basic reason for writing to the parents is to celebrate this new member  coming into their family. So, the first thing you need to do is to focus on what makes this baby special and unique?  Is it the first child? Is it a boy? Is it a girl? Is it twins? Is it adopted?  Was it on the day it was born that's special? (Christmas, Leap Year, your own birthday perhaps?) An example:  "Dear ___ & ___, So you took both decided to take the big plunge again and dive into parenthood? And to have (name of baby) born on Leap Year! That only means he/she will be keeping you young because he/she won't be aging that fast!  Congratulations to all 3 of you."
Acknowledge that it is not only a special time for the parents, but for the entire family to now have a new member.  If this is not a first child, do not forget the other children!  Many times a new baby overwhelms everyone and they forget about the other children in the family.  So include them in the note also. Here is an example: "Hi ___ & ___, I just wanted to congratulate both of you on the birth of _____ and welcome him/her into the world!  I'm sure you'll have many nights with few hours of sleep. But that will be small to the many hours of joy and delight that he will bring the two of you. And, within time (name of child 1) and (name of child 2) will also love playing with their new little baby sister/brother?"

Most of the time, a note comes with a gift.  If you find yourself in a situation where you don't really know the parents all that well, then make the note concentrate more on the gift than the baby. An example: "Dear ___ & ___, Congratulations on your growing family and the birth of ____. Every child needs a (name of gift) according to what my mother told me. So in keeping with tradition, I am giving this to you for ____." Or,  "Dear ___ & ___, How exciting it must be to have a new baby in the house? Since I've never had children, I was at a loss to know what to get. But the sales clerk just insisted that this was "The" hottest item for new parents. I hope you enjoy it and wish you many precious moments with (name of baby.)"

Unfortunately, there are some children who come into this world with birth defects, illnesses and other issues. What do you say? The main thing is to keep your message short and sweet.  You don't know how the parents are feeling and dealing with the situation.  Some parents accept a child with a handicap as a blessing from God and a challenge. Others take it as a punishment.  In either case, it's a difficult situation. Here's a an example: "Dear ___ & ___, This baby is so blessed to be born into such a loving family as yours. I'm sure the days ahead are going to be filled with mixed emotions as the challenges are faced. But I send you my love and prayers."

Tips for Writing for Rites of Passages:

Bat Mitzvahs, Graduations, First Communions  These events are major turning points in young people's lives. It's easier to write something if you know the child personally or  are of the same faith.  But what do you do if you're not Jewish and are invited to a Bar Mitzvah?  Or your not Catholic and are invited to a First Communion? Or invited to a co-worker's son's graduation and you've never met him? You have only seen his photo on his mom's desk? The thing to remember is that these notes are basically for children, not adults. It's best to just keep them short.  And, I hate to be crass, but the kids care more about the gifts than what is written in the note anyway. Here is an example of a note that can be used for all religious  events above with a little customizing: "Dear ___, You're growing up so fast and turning into an impressive young man/lady. This holy celebration day will give you memories that will last the rest of your life. And hopefully these memories will also become cherished by your own children some day."

Here is one for a graduation: "Dear ___, It's over! High School is now the past. But consider what your graduation day really means besides the gifts.  It's the beginning of starting a life filled with goals that only you can make happen. The world now is ahead of you.  Face it wisely!"

Or "Dear ___, My chest is swollen with pride. My buttons have burst.  You did it! Congratulations on not only finishing High School, but doing it with such maturity.... Honor Roll Student, President of ____, playing on the track team, participating in choir, being in the school play.  You've left your mark. Now it's time to go out there and leave a new mark on the world."

I realize that most teens are not Student Body Presidents, Prom Queens and Kings, etc.  Some just barely manage to graduate. In those cases you can make the note pretty simple: "Hi ___, We are so proud to see you graduate from (name of school.) You made it through 4 important years and we're confident you'll make it through anything else you have to face. Your mom and dad have also been bragging how you have a rock band, (or are a computer whiz at some game?) and got an after school job this past year." 

Or if none of that can be applied try.. "I hear that you've matured into a handsome young man with your father's sense of humor."  Or "You have grown into a lovely woman with a good moral sense of right and wrong."

Tips for Writing for Passing A Driver's Test or Getting Your First Car!

I personally feel that getting your driver's license and getting your first car (maybe not at the same time!) are also a form of Rites of Passages in our culture today. For those who have asked me how to send a congratulations to a friend or relative who have achieved these goals, here are some examples: "Congratulations on getting your driver's license!  With this freedom, also comes a great need for maturity and sensibility as you experience all that driving will bring into your life.  You now also have something in common with every other driver on the road.  What is it?  That we all have horrible driver's license photos that we don't want anyone  else to see.  You have now become one of us!"

I think we all remember our first car, whether it was brand new or second hand.  Our first car represented a public symbol of freedom and maturity.  We have finally graduated from riding in the back seat of mom and dad's car to being in the driver's seat ourselves.  Here is an example of a congratulations note: "You've finally arrived in that time in life when a person goes from a two-wheel bike to a 4-wheel ___(name of car)__! Although a dog may be considered "man's best friend", your car will become even closer and dearer to you, as you share many memories: good and bad. Take care of it and it will be faithful to you. Trust me when I say, no one ever forgets their first car. I wish you safe roads and wonderful memories."

Tips for Writing Get Well Wishes Notes  

This really is for those who live out of town or out of state, and can't be by the bed side of someone that you love or care about.  In most cases of  illnesses, most of us would be at their bedside and not need to write a note.  The exception is perhaps a co-worker or business associate that you know on a superficial level, but want to send some kind of note to. The first thing to consider is why they are hospitalized? Is it something like a tonsillectomy . Or is it terminal?  Will they be in the hospital for a while or out in a week?  In the case of my gall bladder removal, I was out the next day.  There wasn't any time to send me notes or flowers. :( If the diagnosis isn't serious, then perhaps a funny poem personalized just for that person and their illness? Or a more humorous tone. Here's an example: "Well ___, It's obvious that you're not compatible with ski slopes, even Bunny Slopes. We all look forward to having you back at work and hearing you hobble around the office on those crutches. Oh, and we've all got are marker pens ready to sign that cast! Hurry Back!"

Another way to write someone who is ill, is to bring up something that you'll miss about them.  You can say that while they are sick, you won't be getting any of their homemade brownies that they'd bake for you. Or you miss the chats on the back porch.  Or, that you wish them a fast recovery because their is no one to bring the doughnuts to the weekly office meetings.

What about people who have a serious illness? Cancer. AIDS, etc. First of all, although I am a Christian, I find many people using God as a cliché during times of serious illness. And, to me, it's a bit insensitive. If this offends some of you, I apologize. But if you are lying in a hospital bed feeling ill, in pain and discomfort, feeling sad, etc. you don't need to hear someone say, "Just have faith. God will heal you." Hello? You know this! (Well you should.)  It's my own view that preaching isn't what people need or want when diagnosed with a serious and terminal illness. So what should you say or do? Having been in the hospital (fortunately for non-serious operation), I certainly know that I didn't want someone making light of my  medical situation.  Finding humor in some of it, is fine!  For example, although I was feeling really crappy (having just had my gall bladder removed) all I kept hearing is, "Boy you've got great hair."  And I was connected to tubes and this  IV contraption I had to take with me to the bathroom even! Then they also gave me my own pink plastic puke bucket, a pink cup with straw with water, and a pink breather thingie (long story on why I had to do this every hour.)  My bed was state-of-the-art and all these electronic adjustment buttons.  So what's my point? To create some humor I literally called myself "Hospital Barbie."  Imagine if you laid a Barbie doll on a hospital bed. All that hair would flow all over. Well mine did. And so I said, "Yes, I'm hospital Barbie. I come with my own electric bed (needs no batteries), a pink plastic puke bucket, a take-along IV roll unit, a lung strengthening breather and a 'Get Well' balloon." I wasn't joking about surgery or making light of having 4 painful incisions. I was joking about the situation! Fortunately, I knew I wasn't going to die.

But what if you do visit someone who is terminal? Or want to send a card? First of all, always think positive!!! But also be real. There comes a time when all the faith and positivity in the world can't stop the inevitable. So if you're sending someone a card who is suffering with cancer, that doesn't mean they're dying. Many people get diagnosed with cancer and live for years in remission and treatments. In this case...BE POSITIVE! And Try to mention a good role model. For example: "Dear ____, Unfortunately hospital rules won't let me visit you in Intensive Care. But I want you to know that my thoughts and prayers are with you. And I know someone one as strong and determined as you have been in life, will be a success in this challenge you're facing too. If Lance Armstrong (or any other role model you choose) can do it, that proves willpower is the best medicine!"

Sending optimism to people with serious illnesses, is better than sending religious or other clichés like "Get Better Soon" or "Just pray for healing" comments IMHO. Sometimes you can avoid discussing the illness or even the eventuality of death by just focusing on the present treatment they are going through. For example: "Hi ____, Rumors are that you're now going through chemotherapy? I'm sorry to hear that, but I hope that it won't be for long. And, I hope that you will soon regain some strength. Are you up for visitors? If so, let me know. I can come over with your favorite ____ if you feel like eating. "

With some people, they lose their hair. This is a sensitive issue. If you are close friends you could joke about bringing a fancy scarf for them to try, or inviting them to go wig shopping or even joking "It's about time you got a new hairdo!" But comments like that MUST come from close friends and family or they are totally out-of-place IMHO.

AIDS is one of those diseases that has so many facets to it. For many years, it was assumed it was only among gay men. Now we know that because of bad blood transfusions, drug use, unprotected sex (homosexual or heterosexual), etc. AIDS is a threat to all of us. So, judging how someone caught it, is NOT proper when sending any kind of note. If you know the person is gay who has AIDs, the sexuality should not be an issue. The focus should be on the person's character and what they have achieved or done in their life. So far, there is no cure. So we all know eventually it's terminal. Perhaps a note expressing more about their devotion to the deceased rather than on how the person died is best? "Dear ___, I can't imagine what it's like to watch someone suffer like you did. But not a day goes by that I don't think about your daily compassion, giving, sacrifice, love and devotion that you showed to (deceased person.) I'm sure that the two of you must have had many intimate chats during His/Her last days that you can remember forever? It was obvious that you both loved each other very much."

What can you say? Even though you may not approve of someone's lifestyle, remember they are put here for a purpose. And they are loved by friends and family, as well as God IMHO. Here is an example of a note you could write: "Dear ____, This must be the most difficult time in your life right now. I hope that the medications that the doctors are giving you are helping you feel better; and, that you get to return home soon. In the meantime, I want you to know our prayers are with you. You've been a great neighbor (co-worker? ) and I want you to know that there's no need to worry about your plants. I'm watering them daily. Your friend (or another neighbor?) ____ is taking care of _____ (the pet?). Remember, you are missed and that we all care."

Sick children are different to write to than sick adults. Sick children can't get enough mail and gifts! (Well, really so can't adults!) When writing to kids, it's OK to tell them that it's OK to cry. That it's OK to say they hurt. But also try to let them know how brave they are during all of this, and that (if it's not terminal) "it won't last forever." A good example is if you went through what they are going through. Say you also broke your arm, or had your tonsils out when you were young. Let them know that you survived and there is hope.

If a child is terminally ill, that's harder. There is no reason to lie to a child but there is no point in bringing up the situation. Instead, misdirection is best IMHO. Children love balloons and stuffed animals more than flowers. Oh I even love balloons and stuffed animals. ;)    Make the sick child feel missed, that they are important and that they are loved. If it's possible, give them a goldfish in a bowl at the hospital. It's another living thing and doesn't need much daily care. If the child is older, you can provide them with a diary and they can daily write down their feelings and experiences when there is no one to visit.  

Finally, if your child is in a room with another sick child, it's always nice to bring the roommate something also. It helps that child also feel he is cared about, esp. if it comes from strangers. And also not jealous or hurt if one child appears to be getting more attention than another. For many reasons some children will get more attention and gifts. Some come from bigger families who are in the area. Other children are put in hospitals where there are specialists for their problems and the only people to visit are their parents. In this case, it's important to make that child feel loved also.

Tips for Writing Deaths, Condolences or Grievance Notes 

(To people who have suffered a loss.)  Let me begin with a confession. I hate funerals! I have since I was a child and was forced to attend my grandfather's funeral in which they made me kiss him goodbye. The thought of kissing a dead person just threw me off balance as a young child! And, for the most part, I have hated them ever since. I also may have the gift of gab in the world, but at funerals I am totally tongue-tied.  To say "I'm sorry" seems so cliché. And for some reason we don't want to say the "D" word = Dead. We use "passed on" or "lives now in Heaven" or "is no longer with us." To have to say something in person at a wake or funeral is a lot harder than in a note IMHO. But one of the phrases I usually say at a funeral to the grieving family is: " Funerals just paralyze me because I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing. And, I'm not sure there are adequate words to express my feelings anyway. I just want you to know that if there is anything I can do that will help ease your hurt and fill the void now in your life with (name of deceased) gone, please let me know." 

Funerals all make us realize our own vulnerability, and those we love also. But I don't think it's proper to use a person's age as a way of consoling. I mean, "He was only 24, such a young age to end a life. That's so sad." or "Well, grandpa was 92 and he had a full life." To me, age isn't a consoling fact in any death. To lose someone you love is the focus, not how old they were. And everyone feels that their pain at this time is THE PAIN OF ALL PAINS. And that no one understands. That's probably true in a lot of cases. Up until these past few years I had no idea what it was like to lose anyone. But suddenly in 10 months I lost both my father and mother. I did know what it was like to lose a pet. Is that the same? I think that when you lose someone you love, to YOU it's a personal emptiness in your world. To everyone else it's just a social loss. So when you write to someone who has lost someone close, keep in mind that to them it's as if they lost an arm or a leg. It's very personal for them. For you it might be just a matter of not seeing them at Christmas anymore. Or not seeing them out working in their garden. Or not having a golf partner anymore. If you are writing a note then try to comment about something that made that person so memorable to you. Do not focus on how they died, but on how they lived! Here are some examples: "Dear ___, I wanted you to know that when I heard about the death of your Mother I was so saddened. She always had such a great smile every time I saw her. And her canned raspberry-peach jam was the best I've ever tasted. I will miss her and remember her at breakfast when I can no longer taste her preserves."

or.. "Dear ___, I know that your dad was very proud of you. I don't know what brought a brighter smile to his face? You or when he would yell "Bingo!" at our weekly games at the American Legion. His passing will be a real loss to all of us who knew him. He was a special man with a special love of life."

Some of the relatives I have, were totally insensitive in my situation. This is why I decided to present this page. When someone dies, it's NO ONE's FAULT! (Unless it was murder or some suspicious circumstances?) But it's not anyone's fault a person gets cancer or has a stroke. So to lash out at relatives because you are hurt, only creates more hurtful memories and does not help anyone. I know, because I had some pretty tacky things said to me insensitively for many reasons. The main one was from a relative who was angry that my Dad died. She couldn't yell at my Dad, so she yelled at me. Transference -- pooh! It hurt and I'll never forget the verbal poison I got hit with unfairly. This person not only lost a person dear to them, they lost my respect (well, so did several other family members I had not seen in years.) Another reason for some tacky remarks was well... to be blunt. ..kissing up! One death opens doors for new positions in wills? (Long story!)   And, death brings forth gossip, which might not always be true. There are always 2 sides to a story. Unfortunately at a time of death, the family doesn't need to take on the responsibility of having to fill all the voids in all the lives this person's death has caused. Nor is it a time to try to fix dysfunctional families IMHO.

In brief, during times of death, if you can't say anything supportive, then don't say anything. And if you feel you have to send something, send flowers and have the florist just sign your name. This way it looks like the florist did it and you had no control of trying to hand-write a note. No one need know you had no desire to. ; ) But a condolence note to or from someone is not the time to vent!

What about very close friends or Significant Others? The people who lose someone that they have been living with for a while, although not legally married, find themselves in an empty hole. These can be either a heterosexual couple or even a homosexual couple. Suddenly one of them dies. Unless one of the friends made a will specifically making the other one the Executor, the friend really can do nothing concerning the burial etc. That person's family must take care of it all. So how do you comfort a Significant Other who has lost the person he/she cared about, when in the eyes of the family or law they aren't significant? "Dear ___, I don't know what it's like to lose someone under the circumstances that you have. But whenever someone you love is gone, there is always an empty spot in our lives. I can imagine that you're hurting just like all of us who knew ____. Those of us who knew _____, could tell that he/she loved you very much. I hope you are surrounded with your own friends and family that can comfort you during this time."

What about Suicide or some Tragedy?

These people suffer from a tremendous amount of conflicting feelings ranging from anger to guilt. Since this page has been up, my example below has received the most feedback from visitors. I've come to the conclusion, that no matter what you say, it's going to be wrong. Why? Because having someone die by suicide is so personal. I think it all depends on how they died, their age, their relationship to the person you are writing to and so on. All I can say is, when I put down the suggestion below, it was not to belittle anyone's grief process or level of pain.

Let me explain.... To suggest someone seek counseling is not meant to be demeaning. But, this has been viewed by some as just that. Let's face it, when Dr. Phil tells one of his guests they need professional help, are they thrilled to hear it? No. But, there comes a time when "some" people are so overwhelmed, all the help and love of family and friends is not enough. To tell someone you don't know their pain and feel helpless is a simple statement of honesty! It's not to berate their pain at all or to put it on some 1-10 scale.  

If you have had a death in the family (in any way) and have received comments that you found stupid, first consider who says it (I mean, some people do mean to be mean during these times) and then consider that most people (probably you also at some time) are at a loss what to say and will probably say the wrong thing. Saying the wrong thing in love isn't mean. Saying the wrong thing intentionally is. Here is the example I've had up for a few years. I, personally do not think it's that insensitive. Some have written me and said, "I'd never want to have that said to me." "Dear ___,  This should not have happened. You must be numb with shock and immense pain. If you want to talk, call me anytime. And, please don't be afraid to ask for help. Also, please be aware that there are resources out there who understand better than I do about losses like this; and, are more than ready with open arms to help you during this time. I feel a sense of helplessness, but my thoughts and prayers are with your entire family."  

Let me clarify, it must also be said that suggesting someone seek counseling or a support group, etc. IS NOT a flippant thing. You must know the person well first of all. And, always say it (or write it) with a loving nature. I agree, it's pretty insulting for someone you hardly know to tell you to go get professional help of some kind.   Based on the input I've received here are some more tips for writing Suicide sympathy notes....

First of all, doing or saying nothing (avoidance) is more hurtful to those that have lost someone, than doing or saying something that might be clumsy. Good, caring intentions mean a lot. Trying to be perfect isn't important as much as just trying. However, someone suggested saying clichés isn't really the best thing. To say, "I know how you feel" or "Time heals all things" or "I'm sure he/she is happier now" will not be helpful. The survivors run a gamut of emotions from sadness, to confusion, to anger, to deep heartache, being numb , etc. I was told the last thing they wanted to hear is that "time heals things." One thing to keep in mind is try to focus on how the person lived, not on how they died (regardless of how the suicide was done). Depending on how well you knew the deceased, try to write about some happy memory of them. It doesn't have to be current, it can be years ago.

Sometimes the person who commits suicide will leave a note. Sometimes they don't. Even if they've left a note (and it was mean or being blameful), it's VERY IMPORTANT to let the survivors know that they did nothing wrong. Guilt is something that many of them have and they don't need any "if only" sympathy notes, no matter how well intentioned.   The cliché, "Better late than never" applies also. Someone told me that for weeks and months afterwards, she got notes that meant a lot. Do not feel that after a certain time, that they wouldn't appreciate hearing from you. That's not true. News trickles in some situations. And, you might not have heard about the suicide/death for months afterwards. Regardless of time, do write and express your sympathy. Do not avoid the family! Many people think, "They won't miss me or notice if I'm not there." Well, they do! Going to the funeral means a lot also to the family. Many times people avoid going to the funeral (or visitation) because of the awkwardness of the death. If you really can't make the funeral, then please tell them with an explanation. But, saying nothing hurts. The family really needs support, regardless of how the person died.

[Note: If I've missed something and you'd like to make a further suggestion, please write me. No names will be posted. My email is on the our main index page.]

Examples for Writing Sympathy Thank You Notes

My stats show (and a few people have written me in email) wanting to know how to thank people for sending flowers for a funeral or giving food or money to them when they've lost a loved one. Below are a couple of examples. Here is an example of writing a thank you note for flowers. "Dear ____   I want to thank you for the lovely flower arrangement that you sent to my father's funeral (or to the house?). The (types of flowers that were in the bouquet if you know it such as roses, lilies, etc.) ____ not only expressed to the family your love, support and understanding; but, they also were such a great example of the beauty  and fragility of life. Thank you so much. Fondly, (or warmly)"  

If you do not know, or can't remember, the type of flowers that were sent, just say "floral arrangement." Here is an example of a thank you note for food. "Dear ___    It meant a lot to us to know that you took time out of your schedule to be concerned about our physical strength during our time of grief.  We really appreciated the (name of the food) that you brought over to the house.  It's the thoughtfulness of friends such as you that help give us emotional (or spiritual?) strength  in the days ahead, as we think of ,and  miss, dad.  Thank you so much. Fondly, (or warmly)" 

Sometimes you just get more food than you can eat. You don't have to say that you ate it. You don't even have to say you liked it (unless you really did!). All you have to say is thanks for giving it.   Here is an example for those that gave money. "Dear ___ It meant so much to us knowing that your thoughts were with us in our loss. We also want to thank you for your financial gift to help with the responsibilities during this time. This isn't an easy time for us right now. But, your generosity will help ease our burdens. Thank you so much, (Or With deepest appreciation...etc.)"  

If you want to put in the actual amount they gave, just change "your financial gift" to "the $50" or whatever amount it was.  I personally think that finding the right words to say during a death in the family is one of the hardest things. Whether you are the family who lost someone and have to say thanks to people; or, you are the one having to send some condolences, it's not easy. But, I think the most important thing to remember is that it's whether you said something eloquently, it's just that you took time to reach out and show you care.

Tip Regarding Attending a Funeral or Visitation

I realize this has absolutely nothing to do with writing notes. But, someone wrote me and shared their experience and feelings which I feel were very valid. If you are attending a funeral, always introduce yourself first! The family is pretty upset and can't always remember names. Do not take it personally if this happens. Also, for many family members some of them have been living out of town for years. When they do return to attend the funeral, many friends and family have aged and changed. Please do not feel bad if they do not recognize you. This is why it's best if you introduce yourself FIRST!  

Tips for Writing General Thank You Notes  

Society says that in some cases, a thank-you note must be sent. In other cases it's not required, but it's nice.   Wedding, Graduation, Bar Mitzvah, First Communion, etc. do require a thank-you note be sent within 30 days of the event. Birthday, Christmas, Anniversary presents do not need a thank-you note. The exception is unless a party was given for the occasion. So if someone threw you and your husband a 25th Wedding Anniversary party and folks brought gifts, then you'd have to send thank-you notes. If friends just knew it was your 25th anniversary and sent a gift to be nice, then you are not technically required to send a thank you. But to keep your friends, I'd recommend it. ;)

I personally feel that anytime you get a gift for ANY reason, you should acknowledge it and send a thank you. I also feel 30 days is a bit long to wait for a thank you and it should be done within 14 days of the receipt. The two exceptions are weddings, esp. if the couple goes on a 2 week honeymoon. Or in situations of some illnesses where the person can't respond with a thank-you note quickly. I guess there are varying opinions on when to respond to wedding gifts? How soon should a bride and groom send out Thank You notes for wedding gifts? There are some etiquette sites that give too much leeway IMHO on this issue. Some etiquette people say the bride and groom have up to 6 months to send Thank You notes. I mean, please. In a few months they'll be having a 1 year anniversary. Others say 3 months. I think this is crazy! Most people will have forgotten all about your wedding after a month. (Even some newspapers take too long to put the wedding announcements in.) I think young couples should begin writing thank you notes as soon as they get back from a honeymoon or get settled in. Write them while your wedding is still fresh in your mind. To me, unless a couple goes on a LONG honeymoon, they should send out thank you notes for gifts within 6 weeks from the wedding.

And, as far as sending a note and wedding gift, I do not feel anyone has up to a year to send a wedding gift.  You might as well tell the couple, "I'll see if you don't get divorced first before I send a gift." ((roll eyes)) If you are sent an invitation to a wedding, then bring a gift if you go (Tip: Put the card INSIDE the box so it doesn't fall off). If you are not attending, then give a gift no later than 30 days after the wedding has taken place, with a note included.  Exceptions are if you purchased your gift from the bridal registry and that store takes care of delivering the gifts to the couple.   I also think it all depends on the couple: How old are they? Is it a first marriage for both? A second marriage and if so, do they have kids? Is the bride pregnant? I know this sounds a bit tacky, but if the marriage is what is termed "shot gun" and the bride is pregnant, you're also going to be sending a baby present soon.   My own advice: Even if you do not like the couple, even if you do not approve of the wedding, even if you are not really closely related, etc. SEND A GIFT!

Why? Because brides record all of this in their bridal books. And you do not want to be listed forever as never sending something! Otherwise, for the rest of their marriage, you will be considered unsupportive and insensitive. And who knows, many marriages work and last that families never approved of. Who are you to judge? So give a gift. If you don't want to write a note, then buy something from the bride's bridal registry, where you only have to give your name as who purchased it.

Tips for Writing Thanks for The Money $

Anytime you get a gift of money, it seems it's very hard to say thanks doesn't it? I mean, money is one of those gifts that can be used for many things, so it's hard to thank someone for a "potential" gift that you haven't purchased the money with, right?   Well, basically that's what you do. If you are given money as a present (Christmas, birthday, graduation, etc.) then than the person for the money, and if possible try to let them know how you will enjoy spending it. If you can't buy something with it but are going to apply it to other money, then say so.   For example, if you're saving for a car. Then you could thank them for their kind financial help towards your future car (or if you know what you want...your new XX.)  "Dear ___, I wanted to let you know that I received your thoughtful financial gift today. My heart has been set on getting a new car for a long, long time and this money will be put in my car fund to help me reach my goal. I can't wait to experience the aroma of that "new car smell." Awe, just imagine!  Thanks again, Love...XX"  

If you are going to put it in savings, then say something like, "Thanks for your kind financial gift. I'm going to put in my savings right now and hopefully the interest will grow as big as your generosity."  

This is just MY own opinion, but I don't think it's good to thank someone specifically. In other words, don't say, "Thanks for the $20." I mean, just think of what I just said and how silly it would sound if you wrote, "Thanks for your generous gift of $20. I'm going to apply it to buying my first car." LOL! Today, I don't think $20 is going to fill the gas tank up. A thanks like that "might" end up implying someone is cheap (and your thanks turns into an insult), when they really had no idea you were even saving for a car. See my point?

What's a lot of money and what's not? I think that's got to be determined by you. For some people, giving $100 to help for college might be considered a nice gift. But others, $100 might buy one text book. I think you have to just consider the source, the amount and the intention of how you're going to spend it (if at all) before you sit down and write a thanks for the money note.     So how do you write a Thank-You Note?

1. Think about the gift! Was it something you wanted? Was it expensive and you feel funny accepting it? Or you love it regardless of cost? Was it not an item but a service? Write about the positive and ignore the negative of the gift (if there is something you don't like.) If you totally love a gift, well, you always have an abundance to say don't you! ;) It's those gifts we aren't totally thrilled with, or come from strangers that we have a hard time writing to.  Below is an example where you got a sweater but you hate the color. "Dear ____, Thank you so much for the sweater. It is so soft that I feel like you've sent me 100 hugs. When the weather gets colder, I'll definitely have you in my thoughts. Thanks for your kindness."

2. Let's say it's something you just can't stand? In that case, focus on the thought, not the item. Or even on the wrapping paper! ;) "Dear ___, I was almost afraid to open your gift because it was so wonderfully wrapped. The paper and bow were just lovely! I want to thank you for thinking of me and sending the _____. Only you could think of such a gift. Your generosity and kindness will always be remembered." ....(If it's homemade you can add) "I'm sure you spent hours to make this lovely ___ for me. Every time I use (wear) it, I'll think of you in return."  

3. Basically, when it comes to writing Thank-You notes, tell the people what they want to hear. Everyone wants to be appreciated. We always don't buy the right gift, but it's the time and energy that matters more sometimes. 

4. What about gifts of money? Not much to rave about unless it's a huge amount of money is there? All you can do is thank someone for their financial generosity. If you know how you're going to spend it, tell them. Say, "Thanks so much for the $50 you sent for my birthday. Now I have enough money to buy this computer game I've been wanting."

If you don't know what you'll spend it on, then say something like, "Your gift of $__ is really appreciated. It's going to be put into my savings account right now and if the economy ever perks up, perhaps it will double in interest some day. Let's hope! Thanks for the money. "  

Tips for Writing Hospitality Thanks  

If you were invited for dinner and everything was terrific, then you don't really need my help to know what to say, do you? But, what if you were invited for dinner and the meal wasn't great? Write the Hostess that you were so glad to be invited and mention an interesting guest you met. Avoid talking about the food in the note. As I say, find something POSITIVE! If you did have a great time, say so.   "Dear ___, I wanted to thank you for including me as one of your guests. You're a very good example of what Southern hospitality is all about. Your home is so lovely. And your guests were such a pleasure to talk to. I wish I could have stayed all night and chatted with them all. We'll have to get together again, only my treat." By saying this, you promise to reciprocate a meal to them, but you're not obligated to give a total dinner party yourself if you don't want to.

Or if you were an out of town guest, you can say "When in ___ give me a call and I'll treat you to one great restaurant."

Some of us are hostesses and some of us aren't. But it's often odd for a single person to reciprocate with dinner parties they've been invited to by married couples.  

Tips for Writing During The Holidays  

(Christmas, Kwanzza, Hanukkah, Mothers Day, Father's Day)  The holidays, especially Christmas, are usually when we feel obligated to write. This often makes it more stressful. I am guilty of sending an annual Christmas letter that's typed and printed. I don't hand write mine. I just don't have the time. I have one friend who does. She writes everyone personally. God Bless her! Holiday writing should be a time to "Connect" your lives with others. It should not be a comparing or competition on who had the most successful year. If you don't want to write much, send a photo.  No one is really obligated to communicate during a holiday if you don't want to. We all have bad years. It's nice to hear from people. And as a Christian, I feel even hearing the bad news is acceptable. I mean, how do you know what to pray for if no one tells you what's going on in their lives?

Now, Mother's Day and Father's Day *might* be considered a got to communicate or else holiday. ;) Mom and Dad could get upset if they don't hear from you, if not by a card or note, then a phone call or something. It all depends on how your family is. When it comes to communicating with your parents, I think it all depends on if you live close or far, and how old you are? And in many cases, how close you are, especially if there's been a divorce. In other cases it depends on whether you are dealing with whether or not to send a card to a step parent. What to say? If this step mom or dad hasn't really raised you then it's hard to say what a wonderful parent they've been in your life.  

Here are some ideas for writing to parents, both paternal and step. "Dear Mom (or Dad), I think you are the greatest. I know you have faults, but I can't think of any at the moment. You deserve much more than this (name of gift or card?) for all that you've done for me, but it's all that I can afford. Hopefully, by the time I become a Mom (or Dad), I'll be able to as giving to my child as you have been to me."

Or "Dear Mom, Wow! I can't believe that you only get one day a year to be thanked for giving me 9 months of free womb and board. So I'm going to make the most of it. I hope you really enjoy this (name of gift, flowers, etc.). "

Or "Dear (name of step parent) Although you didn't become part of my family until I was much older, I want you to know that I think you're terrific. You've been so loving to my (mom or dad), and shown such patience and support towards me as I adapted to our new family. I want you to know that I am cherishing each day that I have known you."

Or if you have a step parent you're not fond of but you don't want to be rude and need to send something, here's an idea: "Dear ___(name of step mom or dad) Who says we can't pick our relatives? My (mom or dad) picked you! Tomorrow might be one of those days where we end up fighting over some silly thing. But, I think you've been brave to accept such family responsibilities. And, today I'm just happy to see you healthy, enjoying life and making my (mom or dad) happy."

Tips for What Kind of Paper To Use  

What your note says is the main thing. But what about the paper it's written on? Should you buy expensive stationery? Should you just use any note paper handy. Or should you just sign a card and not write a thing? First of all, I think that if you are sending a card that has a verse, it's always nice to also include a written sentence or two inside or on the back. And always hand-write the address or name of the person on the card! Never type it or use pre-addressed labels. I know many people keep their address books on a computer program and can print out labels.   With some situations, I think personal stationary is nice. In other situations, I don't think it matters.

For example: If you're writing due to a formal event (wedding, Bar mitzvah, funeral, etc.) I think you need to send a card with a note or use formal writing paper.

If you're writing for just a birthday, or holiday, cards to me are not necessary. It's just the idea to connect to someone on this special day that matters.  

If you're sending a gift, a long letter isn't necessary, just a simply note on a gift card or a small piece of paper inside an envelope.

If you are writing thank you notes because you received gifts, I think it all depends on why.

If you are writing because you are thanking people for wedding, graduation, Bar mitzvah etc. gifts, then a formal note or paper is best.

If you are writing to thank someone for a birthday present, doing something nice for you, or just to say "hi" to someone and keep in touch, I think any sort of paper is nice.

In fact, in some cases the more casual the paper, the more enjoyable the letter can be sometimes. For example, to keep in touch with an old friend, write a letter on a garbage bag. Or a roll of plain paper towels for example.   Nothing is more welcome than hand-made cards also.

If you are one who likes crafts, take time to make your own cards. The key to a good note is to make a personal connection with someone! And to make that connection create a warmth by the person who receives it, whether it's just to chat, say thanks, send sympathy, etc. Never write when you're tired or in a bad mood! Wait. It's best to have for example, a nice warm belated birthday greeting than one that's on time and rather sterile and blunt.


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