Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ms. B's Advice on Expressions of Sympathy

Dear Ms. B,

I just found out that a friend of mine from high school lost her baby almost eleven months ago.  We we pretty good friends in high school.  Our lives went different directions in college and after, but we were still friends, if not especially close.  I went to her wedding, and she couldn't attend mine but sent a nice gift.  In the last two years, we've really only kept in touch on Facebook.  My husband and I spent some time living overseas and now we've moved back to the states, but we're on the East Coast while my friend lies in the midwest.  I can't remember the last time I've seen her, but I still care about her very much and when I heard about her baby (just a few weeks ago), my heart was broken for her.  I have a small child of my own, and I hate to think of anyone I know going through the pain of that kind of loss.  I just feel so terrible.  I remember I congratulated her on Facebook when she announced her pregnancy, and it was just a few months ago that I noticed that she no longer had a profile.  I just thought that she was too busy and "grown up" to bother with it anymore, but then I happened to talk to a mutual friend who told me that her baby was stillborn.

I'm not sure what to do at this point.  I mean, her loss was almost a year ago.  I don't want to send a note that would dredge up emotions and sadness that she's trying to move past.  I'm also embarrassed that it took me so long to find out what happened.  I don't know if I should get in touch with her, or just keep her in my prayers and hope that she'll reconnect with me when things get better. What should I do?

A Belatedly But Truly Sympathetic Friend

Dear Belatedly But Truly Sympathetic,

Send a card.  Send an e-mail.  You're not dredging up anything.  Your friend has not forgotten at any single moment in the last eleven months that she had a baby and that baby died.  Your card will not be an unwelcome reminder; it will be a much-appreciated acknowledgement of her baby and her grief.

All you have to do is be honest and explain that you just found out what happened.  Express your sympathy, just as you did in the letter you wrote to me.  Your friend may respond, or she may not (grief is a tricky business), but either way she will appreciate the gesture on your part.  Remember, "There is no love, only proofs of love."  All of the prayers and kind thoughts and good intentions in the world are relatively meaningless to to your friend if she doesn't know that you're sending them up on her behalf.  Plus, she may think that you must have known all along and didn't care enough to contact her.  Ms. B suggests that you set the record straight and express your sympathy to her.  Sending a sympathy card (or e-mail) is never inappropriate or bad etiquette, even if it's several months (or years) later.  The hurt doesn't go away.  Notes from old friends are a reminder that love doesn't go away either.

Ms. B.

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