Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No Thank You: New Rules About Thank You Notes After the Death of a Loved One

Good golly, my last 2 blogs have been heavy. It’s time to lighten things up a little. Or you know…as much as I can. Usually dead spouses are not where you find a little levity.
Until now!

I can’t remember who said what, but on my Facebook page, someone just mentioned something about a thank you note. And it really got me to thinking.

I know you love it when I do that. So brace yourself.

Now, I was brought up with a Southern mother who drummed into us the lesson that it doesn’t matter if someone gives you a diamond or a dandelion…thank you notes are a must. And for the most part, I completely agree. For whatever the gift or sentiment, the giver thought of you, took the time out of their day to give you something, and that action should be acknowledged.

Even now, with my kids as young as they are, I have them write their own thank you notes. And I even have them write them to each other after a birthday or holiday. We all know, that as the giver, it gives us a little smile to know that someone is enjoying the gift we gave them.


Immediately after the death of someone close to you, you’re either one of two things: You’re running around manically trying to get a million things done at once so you don’t have to think about what’s going on, OR you’re laying in your bed, trying your hardest not to move just in case the grief monster is in the room, notices you, and plans a sneak attack.

Either way, you’re really not up for calmly sitting down and writing a thank you note for the potted plant someone brought to the funeral or the ham you never had the appetite to eat. Because, in the grand scheme of things (and nothing gives us a glimpse into The Grand Scheme of Things like the death of a loved one)…compared to the size of your grief…is a thank you note really that important?

And don’t even get me started on the effort it takes to address the damn things.

When my husband died, a good family friend of mine was very forward-thinking and immediately set up a family fund at my bank so that people could contribute monetary gifts for the kids. This was a great idea. I personally didn’t get the checks (and, therefore, I didn’t lose the checks) and they were deposited in this account, safe and sound.


The bank didn’t really keep track of who sent the checks. Some of the employees kept the cards that came with them, some of them didn’t. So, I had no idea where half of those checks came from. Enter panicky feeling here. Because I didn’t know where to send the thank you note.

Really? My husband’s dead…and that’s what I’m worried about?

Now, I understand that part of the business end of the thank you note is just an acknowledgement that you’ve received the gift and that’s very important. But for me to be completely stressed out, 3 weeks after my husband died, about thank you notes…is a little ridiculous.

I know I’m not the only person this has happened to. About a year after he died, I was sitting with a new widow and the same thing had happened to her (with a different bank). She looked exhausted as she explained the effort she had put into trying to track down who had sent what. So that she could then research the person’s address and send them a 2 sentence thank you note acknowledging the gift.

Is it just me…or maybe she shouldn’t have had to worry about that when she was trying to figure out how she was going to raise a 2 year old daughter on her own after husband had died instantly in a plane crash?

THEREFORE (and you know this is going to be big since I put it in capital letters), I am starting a new movement that I hope will catch on.

Thank you notes are not necessary
after the death of a loved one.

For the gift giver…I have some suggestions:

• If you’ve sent a check and you’re worried about whether or not it made it…check your bank and see if the check cleared. If it did…we got it. THANK YOU.
• If you’ve ordered flowers and you want to make sure that they were at the funeral, ask someone who is attending (surely you must know somebody), and if they did…THANK YOU. (This also applies to ham, little mini rose plants, and that bottle of scotch, which believe me…we appreciated.)
• Know that any gift you have given…the gift of your time, your money, or your sympathy is greatly appreciated. And that just because you may not receive the actual thank you note in a timely manner, doesn’t mean we don’t know all that you have done for us. We’re just trying to walk and breathe at the same time. So putting pen to paper is not high on our list of priorities.

Since I have personally been through this, when I give someone a gift after a loss, I immediately say, “I don’t need a thank you note. I know you got it. I know it will be used. Take me off your list.”

Even better…one of the sympathy cards (and checks) I did personally receive had a note in it that said, “Don’t write me a thank you note. Take that time and do a puzzle with your kids.”

Now that’s a gift.


  1. I totally agree with you. I wished I would have read this when my husband passed (03/04/09). I was going crazy trying to get things in order, figuring out how I was going to manage to take my daughter to school, pick her up from school, take her to practice and make sure that she has a warm cooked meal at night, when I work and have to be at work by 7:30 and I work 30 miles away from home. This is great advice. I would advise any person going thru this to forget the "thank you" cards and for those who send out, don't bother. We have enough on our minds to have to worry about thank you cards.
    Thank you so much for sharing, I love reading your post!

  2. It's never occurred to me to send anyone a thank you cared - maybe I'm just a poorly raised person! But seriously, I figure that anyone who sent me a card or a message knows why they're sending the message, and has enough imagination (I hope) to be able to guess that I'm in no state to worry about niceties.

    And if they're bent out of shape that I didn't send a thank you card? Then they care more about that than they do about me or my loss. And I don't care.

  3. A "thank you cared" - possibly Freudian...

  4. Ahh, my dear was a stickler for manners, especially thank-you notes. I did get some done...and it was like trudging through thigh high mud and mind bogglingly difficult. Frankly the hardest thing to deal with was the line of what exactly I was writing these for?

    Yeah I know it was for "fill in the blank" but what stuck in my pea brain was : "My husband is dead and I am writing thank you's for this? WTF?"

    What's left of my catholic upbringing chides me about the xtra time This will cause me to spend in purgatory. I'll sign on to giving those who've had a loved one die getting a pass on thank-you notes.

    Still have a box full of cards which after eight months I have, carefully, hidden in a back cupboard.

  5. My thank you cards are still not written (7 months later), actually some ARE written, some are even addressed. I just haven't made it to the post office to get stamps yet. I find the whole process of thank you notes overwhelming. I totally agree that thank you notes for the grieving should waived!!!

  6. Yep I have a tote box full of custom-printed thank you cards I never sent out. All the incoming cards & wishes & gift notes are also in there. Yet I can't bring myself to delve into that box, even more than a year later. A lot of painful memories of those first shocking days & weeks are in there too.

  7. Thank you widow chick for this post. I really agree with you. I hope that people were understanding when It came to me and my little family because I was already so overwhelmed with two small kids and trying to tread that terrible black water called widowhood, I couldn't even think about thank you notes. I am glad to hear others don't think they are necessary either when dealing with death. Big weight off my shoulders :) I have felt so guilty for not sending them out.. No more however.. Thanks.

  8. Great! My husband died a year ago. I had a bunch of pals who took over writing the obligatory thank you's. I have never, ever looked for a thank you after giving a gift but unfortunately, some folks do. Well put widowchick. Keep on keepin' on.

  9. I had a sign-in list at the shiva for those attending, where I asked them to give their addresses. Those that did were the first to be sent thank you notes, followed by those in my address book. I also sent several via Facebook and emails. A large number made donations in his name, and I grew stressed out having to spend so much time writing thank yous. So, after a while, I just gave up. One of the donors had the nerve to complain to me that she never received a thank you. I believe that I had thanked her for her shiva visit already, and the thank you for the donation had already come though the charity. So, I thought it pretty nervy of her to complain about this, at a time when I was only a couple of weeks into grieving my loss.

    I think it's really unfair to judge others and I, for one, don't expect thank you notes all the time - I just appreciate them when they are received.

  10. All I have to say is...Thank You,You Rock!!

  11. Amen! Amen! Amen!

    I spent hours in the weeks after Michael died writing out thank you notes. I just feared that someone would be offended if I didn't acknowledge their kindness, but all the while I was thinking it was ludicrous that I had to write a thank you note while I was dealing with serious grief. It's a horrible tradition that needs to end!!!

  12. I gave birth to triplets last year and one of my daughters was stillborn. I wrote thank you notes for the flowers people sent; now I think it was ridiculous, but at the time. . .I honestly cannot remember what my thoughts were. My dad even gave me the addresses of his friends - unprompted - so that I could send them. And what I wanted to write in them was, "Thank you for the flowers you sent for the birth of my daughters. Thanks also for not mentioning that my other daughter died, dumb ass. If you've forgotten, perhaps someday I will too." So I guess I wasn't entirely jazzed about writing them. Instead I wrote about how I hoped my dad didn't bother them with too many pictures. Ugh.

  13. Amy--

    Why are we always so damn polite???? We should take that golden opportunity, tell people what we really think, and then blame it on the grief! I've thought that for years...I really regret not speaking my mind more. :>)

  14. I had a mountain of people to thank for things sent and stuff when my husband passed away, then a month later Daddy passed, so Mom had a pile too! I Think we got everyone, but you know what...if we missed some screw it! We could both hardly remember our own names, and people who don't get that didn't send stuff because they loved us and wanted to help...they did it for praise. LOL Oh well...I think...I would feel guilty though if I did forget someone, but in my mind I just let myself think I did it perfectly! You are right...our husband's died and getting overwhelmed about some cards is a little silly!

    Great work you do here! Love ya and all our sista widows!

  15. Thank goodness you all feel the same way I husband died three years ago and the cards received sit in a box with the thank you cards I bought....I decided long ago that I would not write any thank you notes and really do not care what people think any more..

  16. I am sorry for everyone's losses. I lost a dear friend recently. I spent $150 for flowers for my friend's funeral and also made a $500 contribution toward an educational fund for my friend's child. I am on a fixed income so I went into my meager savings to do this. I was also was with the family for several days after the death, brought food, provided emotional support, ran errands, etc. I loved my friend dearly and feel the loss every day. The lack of acknowledgement from the family hurts deeply. I know they are grieving, but so am I and it hurts. Might help to give everyone some perspective on how others might view the lack of a sincere thank you.

  17. I'm also a Southerner living in Louisiana, and I disagree. Thank you
    notes should definitely be sent.

  18. was looking for the "last word" on the timeliness of thank you cards. I still, after 3 months, have not finished sending cards. But I will, somehow, get them out. I just hope my people will understand the time lapse. If not, no explanation will suffice.