There are no guarantees in life except death and taxes, so the saying goes.
I can't help with taxes, and I can't really do anything about the Grim Reaper either.
But when someone we love is bereaved and mourning, there is something we can do.
We can write them a note or letter, or these days, maybe post a message on Facebook offering our condolences.
Too often, we end up with something sincere but generic and forgettable, the dreaded "thoughts and prayers."
No doubt the sentiment behind a "thoughts and prayers" message is sincere.
But each generic "thoughts and prayers" message is a missed opportunity to deepen our connection with someone we love, to offer them real consolation, and to lift their burden, if ever so slightly.
Ecclesiastes says "it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting."
That's how I feel about condolence letters. It's more important, and more impactful, to write meaningful messages of condolence than to write enthusiastic congratulations and well-wishes on happy occasions.
But often we don't know what to say when offering condolences.
Enter our communication hero and role model, Abraham Lincoln.
Three letters of condolence appear in Lincoln's collected papers, and in this video, I analyze all three of them, including the famous "letter to Mrs. Bixby" that was the basis for the movie Saving Private Ryan.
After watching this video you will know how to:
-- Start a condolence letter.
-- Talk about the deceased person and what he or she meant to you.
-- Describe the limits of language in relieving anyone's grief.
-- Offer a benediction and sympathy to the bereaved person.
I know the topic might seem heavy, but it's not really. Condolence letters are for the living.
They are a celebration of the life of the person who has died, and a declaration of love and support for the person who is bereaved by the loss.
There will be far too many opportunities to write these letters in your life.
Master these skills, and you will be remembered with fondness and gratitude by your friends who drew comfort and solace from your words in their time of need.
P.S. I wrote an earlier blog entry about this topic also. You can read it here.