I received about six or seven condolence cards. Some had a simple sentiment such as “Thinking of you during this difficult time,” which was accompanied by a heartfelt, handwritten note. In other cases the sender let the card do the talking and just signed it. These cards featured drawn out verses of quasi-poetry. I didn’t like them because I felt as if those cards were telling me what to feel. My present state of mind didn’t include concepts like “memories” or “legacy.” If the cards had mentioned “bewilderment” or “numbness” or “exhaustion” I’d have felt the writers had some idea of what this was all about.
And that was the other thing: the writing. I’m a writer, so I’m hypercritical. The writing was just so bad. Clichés, flowery prose, hackneyed sentiments. And too many concepts shoved into one space. Plus they never used the word “died” or “dead.” It was always about “passing” or “loss.” At least give me “gone.”
A few weeks after my dad died we learned that a distant relative of Jonathan’s had died, a sister of his stepfather’s. I told him he should go buy a condolence card for his stepfather. That’s what you do, even if you have no idea what the relationship between deceased and living was like. He came back from CVS with a simple card and showed it to me, noting that it was the best of the cards that he saw, most of which were terrible. He’d also observed that there were different categories of condolence cards including “Unexpected Death.”
Everything’s about demographics these days, isn’t it? I thought it would be interesting and perhaps gratifying – to someone, if only to me – to produce a line of extremely specific condolence cards.
“We heard that your sister died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and wanted to say that we’re sorry about that.”
“I was sad to hear that your nephew overdosed on heroin. That’s just awful.”
“I’m sorry that your dad was run over by a propane truck. We hope he didn’t suffer.”