Friday, October 29, 2010

thank you....mostly

I met a recently widowed woman in the doctor's office the other day. We talked sadly yet conspiratorially. I nodded as she mentioned having trouble trusting herself in public as she was concerned she would either throw up her hands and scream at all the ridiculous and vacuous frivolity that seems to go on in the world unnoticed by 'normal' folk or break down and sob gut-wrenching tears when faced with the choice of buying whole milk (her dead husband's favourite) or skim.

As I drove home after giving her my number and strict instructions to call if she needed to, I dredged up some of the partially archived memories and thoughts from those very early widowed days. I remembered how annoying and labour intensive every small task was and how I felt that I could see through the inane societal expectations.

I remember the suggestion that filled me with confusion and, somewhat, with anger was a family member's insistence that I begin to write thank-you notes. Everything within me screamed bitterly at this implication.

I was and remain very thankful of everything that had been done for, given to or assisted with for the remaining members of our little family. I was so touched and comforted by those who came by (although I was unable to greet them as I was more prone to laying in my bed staring at the imperfections in the drywall). I felt humbled by the empathy and kindness of those who loved us and even of strangers. I was relieved that my children were being fed because I was unable to make anything for them. People's generousity was a balm to the aching 'alone-ness' that I felt every second after he died. I was grateful. I still am. I will always be....even for the actions of those who I do not remember...either from the lack of ability to concentrate post-Jeff or from the sedative effect of the meds that the doctor had prescribed.

But I still feel that marking these acts of kindness and generosity with a card is brutal and hard.

When you're well and upbeat it is not a difficult feat to buy, write in, address and mail a small note letting the generous party know that you appreciate their thought. You have plenty to say....and often, you have a helper (husband or wife) to assist in the daunting task.

Weddings, birthdays and other festive events are truly wonderful moments in our lives to be chipper and express our grateful nature. Our eyes are smiling, our hearts are joyful and the generousity of others is given to share in the joy of others - not for the needs of the heartbroken.

I believe that the birth of a baby is cause to celebrate....but it is a bit iffy in the thank-you note department. The last thing I want a dear friend to have to do while their new baby finally sleeps is to have to write me a letter saying 'Thanks for the stripy green sleeper. My son barfed breast milk on it last night'. I'd be pleased if they used that moment to have a bath, eat some nourishing food or take a nap themselves.

I felt that somehow, in a warped way, my thank you note was creating the image that I was thankful for this situation. That this disaster that had caused the flood of casseroles and flower arrangements was to be celebrated. But I felt quite the opposite. I was horrified to be in this predicament facing down a life alone with two tiny kids in tow. Every breath was marked by reliving Jeff's death....and here I was writing a missive expressing my gratitude for the kindness bestowed upon us because of his death. "Thank you so very much for your kindness and generosity at this very difficult time..."

But I became obsessed with these notes. I had stacks of them ready to mail at all times. I was so very concerned that someone who had sent something or called or visited had not been given their 'dues' and been noticed or mentioned upon these pieces of card stock. I'd worry that they didn't know how thankful I truly was. I'd attempt to come up with some ingenious or creative thought. I'd stay up so very late into the evening with ink staining my fingertips trying to express my gratitude....and loathing every second of it.

So now, I wish that instead of handing this new widow my phone number with instructions to call if she 'needs' me, I wish that I had told her that if she felt that these tokens of gratitude were entirely necessary, I would write them for her....or instruct her that those who have empathy for what she is going through would tell her that these notes were a waste of energy. That those who were doing it with a truly generous heart would know that she was grateful and comforted. No note needed.


  1. It has been over ten months. I wrote some but, but the whole idea of writing thank-you .... for? Just too surreal.

    Couldn't finish, if there is a special circle for those who didn't write thank-you's after the death of their loved one? Keep my seat warm.

    Well. guess it would be, wouldn't it.

  2. So very true, I have a box of wonderful letters that I received after Jeremy died and I occasionally feel a pang of 'guilt' but as you said - writing to thank people who helped seems to almost trivialize their heartfelt giving.

    Thank you for raising this as a subject in your blog, that makes me feel a little better.

  3. I also did those notes but they were simply done to get it over with. However, my first Christmas Letter was one large thank you note that summarized my gratitude and many people responded to that--I could have forgotten all those notes and just waited if I had known.

  4. Well said, Jackie.
    I think the writing of thank you notes after someone dies is a barbaric practice/expectation. I had friends who wrote a few notes for me, but I refused to write/send them myself. I could not write "thank you" during this time. I wrote about it on my blog and thanked everyone there and told them how grateful I was for everything, but that I could not, and would not, send out notes.
    I only heard from one person (out of a few hundred) who had a problem with it.

  5. my favorite "proper conduct" comment was from my mother, who said "you may have a window right now where it is okay to not return phone calls immediately, but it won't last forever, so you better just remember that." I'll have that side helping of shame on top of the shock and grief, please.

  6. I felt pressured to write those stinking notes so I did. Now that the fog has lifted, I wish I hadn't done them. I sat on the couch with the TV tray set up for too many nights after getting the kids in bed to write those stupid notes, address them and check them off the list. I started out counting but then stopped when I hit 100. I wish I had rebelled in others' eyes and not written a single note and had instead done what I wanted to do-curl up on the couch, watch it snow and cry my eyes out. In the end, there was a small list of notes that didn't get done. Those folks were probably offended but by that time, I was packing for a cross country move of my entire household, four kids and two pets while still waiting for the death certificate and life insurance to come thru so I just couldn't give another ounce of myself to their needy egos. And yes, I am the one who got a lecture for not getting the baby thank yous out quick enough after his birth! My advice instead, step outside and say thanks to God for making it thru another day while catching your breath and asking the strength for the next day and the next...

  7. I have a different perspective:

    I wrote over 200 thank you notes -- handwritten, not preprinted -- to every person who donated to our children's education fund, who brought food, who was there with me during that terrible week of Nick's dying.

    Every note I wrote was a reminder that someone cared about us.
    Every note I wrote was a reminder that people wanted to help.
    Every note I wrote was a reminder that Nick had touched the lives of people across the country, people I'd never met.
    Every note I wrote was a reminder that people loved Nick, loved us, loved me.
    Every note I wrote was a testament to that love.
    Every note I wrote honored that love.
    Every note I wrote honored Nick, whose life inspired an unbelievable outpouring of generosity.
    Every note.

  8. I've answered this topic on another widow's blog, I seem to recall, and my answer reflects either my obliviousness or my lousy upbringing, or at least my sense of what's important and what isn't. My view: no need for thank you notes. If the person really cares about you, she'll know why you're not writing to thank you for something that was done out of kindness... not for form's sake. If she does expect a thank you note... then her reasons for the "kind" thing she said or did are out of whack.

    Just my view. At four and a half months out.

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  10. I'm just 5 weeks out from my husband's passing and having trouble getting started with the thank-yous. I'm not really against doing them, but it's just one more thing I must do because Vern is gone and it hurts. Thanks for providing a different perspective, Alicia.

  11. My thoughts exactly. I struggled with writing thank you notes.... and at this point if they didn't get one and they are offended then they truly don't know me or love me and therefore its okay. Thank you for confirming what I've come to realize!

  12. I HATED these notes. I wrote them all and resented every one of them. Don't get me wrong, I didn't resent the people, just the notes. Then...I didn't mail a single one. Not one person said anything to me and if they would have - I wouldn't have cared. Those who needed a thank you note didn't do what they did for the right reasons. Count me among the "classless" as noted above. I called everyone and thanked them - that was enough. Screw anyone who felt any different.


  13. I think that it is unnecessary to write thank you notes. Anyone who expects them at such a difficult time is selfish! You do not need those kind of people in your life. Only write the ones you want to! That is what I did. I thanked the doctors and nurses who took care of my husband on his birthday to honor his memory on that day. My real friends got it, they were grieving too!

  14. I am so glad you wrote this.I have not written the first thank you note and Mark has been gone 7 months. It just seems like that will make it so final and I know it's final, but that's just one more painful thing to deal with. I know most people don't expect them if they did something for you out of the goodness of their heart.

  15. i wrote the thank you notes only to give me something to do..but it turned out to be one of the hardest things. its only 2months &4days since i lost the love of my life!we hadnt even hit the best years yet. we were saving for our first house and had just paid off our cars. i had a woman ask me last week if i was over "it"yet! if people can be that distasteful then theres nothing wrong with not writing thank yous!

  16. I sent out acknowledgement cards that were preprinted and just had my signature on the bottom.
    here is a pic
    I did write a small note for some people who really helped out. It would have been way to hard to write a hand written note to everyone. at least for me.