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Expressions of Sympathy

Even the most talkative and eloquent among us are often at a loss for words when it comes to helping people deal with the death of someone close to them. We want to express our sympathy, our sharing of their feelings, but we don’t know how to do it. Words can be comforting, but they’re also fleeting. So we turn to more tangible expressions of sympathy.

Sympathy gifts come in many forms. A card with a thoughtful message is often the first thing we seek. There is a surprising array of choices to be made when selecting a card. The natural inclination is often to pick a card that reflects the giver’s beliefs as opposed to focusing on those of the bereaved. Some sympathy cards contain short generic messages and are appropriate for acquaintances such as co-workers with whom one does not have a close personal relationship. Other cards reflect religious or spiritual themes, which may bring great comfort at such a difficult time. The final type of card emphasizes the friendship between the giver and receiver. These cards assure the receiver that a true friend will be ready to provide support in any way possible.

We shouldn’t underestimate the long-lasting impact a sympathy gift will have on the recipient. This point was driven home for me when I gave a plant to a co-worker. (It was spring and I was transplanting recently rooted baby spider plants to share with friends and acquaintances.) The next day she told me that she had cried when she brought it home and put it on her table.

It turned out that her father had died several years earlier. At that time, someone gave her a plant as a sympathy gift. Watching the plant grow and burst with life over the years always comforted her by reminding her of the energy and enthusiasm for life her father had displayed. Did that gift giver have any idea of the power of that simple condolence gift – that it would console her for years?

Unbeknownst to me, a couple weeks before I offered her that new little plant, her old one had died and she had to dispose of it. It upset her to see that empty place on the table every day. She told me that when she brought home my plant and placed it in its spot, it was like that life and energy returned, once again reminding of her in a positive way of her father.

Though it may be difficult to express our sympathy at times, we should all take comfort in knowing that the gestures we make and tokens we give in sympathy are gifts that really will comfort the hearts and souls of the recipients.

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