When we lose a loved one, we are immediately thrust into unfamiliar territory. We are distressed. We are grieving, yet we also need to deal quickly with planning and organizing tasks, as well as managing communications with family and friends. With all that, are we required to be grateful, too? Do we actually need to sit down and write thank you cards after the funeral?
Following are some tips for how to handle showing appreciation for the kindness of your community and colleagues who’ve expressed their sympathy in special ways. Keep in mind that etiquette around thank-you practices in general is changing, so we’ll give you our best advice based on traditional and modern approaches to saying thanks after a funeral or memorial. Then you can discover what works best for you.
When Do I Say Thank You for Sympathy Gifts or Donations?
A handwritten note of thanks for a sympathy gift or other thoughtful gesture is always a beautiful idea and will certainly be appreciated by the recipient. While you do not have to write a thank you card in response to a simple note of sympathy or condolences you’ve received after a death, it is traditional to thank those who have really gone out of their way to help you or to honor your loved one.
Examples of reasons to write a thank you card after a funeral or memorial include if someone has delivered a eulogy, reading, song or speech at the service; if they’ve helped with meals or childcare during an illness or after the death; if they’ve sent flowers or a sympathy gift or planted a tree; or if they’ve made a donation to a charity or fund in honor of the person who has died.
How Soon Do I Need to Write Thank Yous After a Death?
When you are in the first throes of grieving someone who has died, you may feel tired, overwhelmed, sad, even depressed. When you see friends, family and colleagues sending sympathy cards or gift baskets or making donations or offering help in other ways, you may feel pressure to appear grateful, even to be “correct” in your response from an etiquette perspective. But remember, no one will be expecting or awaiting a formal thanks from you. They know you are hurting, and it is their gesture toward you that takes precedence. You are the one who needs support, and you should freely accept it, without guilting yourself in any way. Put another way: there is no timeline for when you need to thank anyone for supporting you. You should absolutely prioritize your own grief and take good care of yourself right now. If a length of time does pass before you thank someone for their support or kindness, you can acknowledge that in your card or note, and that is just fine.
How Do I Thank All the People Who’ve Donated Online in Honor of My Loved One?
To support an important cause or to offer financial support after a death, sometimes a family friend or colleague will set up a charitable page or donation fund in the person’s memory. You may find yourself overwhelmed by the number of people—some of whom you may not even know personally—who contribute in honor of the dear one you’ve lost. Don’t stress too much about this, especially if you don’t have contact info for everyone. When you do get to a point where you feel you can offer thanks, you can create a thoughtful message of appreciation to share online. If you need help with this, you can also ask a friend or family member to assist with putting something together. It could be a group email sharing a few photos and stories, along with a note of your sincere appreciation for all the support.
Do I Have to Handwrite Every Thank You Card After the Funeral?
If you have just a few key people to acknowledge, handwriting personal notes may be the way to go, and you might—at the right moment—find it comforting or even therapeutic to express gratitude in your time of loss. If, however, you have a large number of people to thank, there are resources out there. You can find pre-printed thank you cards online where you can type a general message of appreciation to appear on all the cards. Generally you can order those by the ten or by the dozen. Then you can personalize with a signature or with a few lines.
Tips for Thanking People After a Funeral
- If you’re thanking someone for a specific act or gift, do mention it. If the person held a special place in your loved one’s work or personal life, acknowledging that detail can also be very meaningful to the recipient.
- If you are thanking someone for sending money, you shouldn't mention the exact amount. Just acknowledge the gift and how much it meant.
- If you do create a general online thank-you, for a charitable fund set up in your loved one’s honor for example, you should still consider writing personal notes to those who have gone above and beyond.
- If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of writing notes, just wait. When some time has passed, if you do feel like writing a few notes, you can keep them very simple, and you can do just a tiny few at a time.
Above All, Be Kind to Yourself
The most important thing is that you give yourself all the space you need right now. You should not judge yourself for anything you feel around the topic of writing thank-you notes in response to sympathy gifts or other support you’ve received after the loss of a loved one. You should feel what you're feeling and know that it's valid. You should take care of yourself and make sure you are getting all the support you need. When you’re ready, expressing your gratitude can be a positive step forward. And at any point along the way, you can always ask someone close to you to help convey your thanks until you can do it personally.