The Art of the Condolence Note

by Amy Dosser

One Thursday evening in July, eighteen women gathered at the RCWMS office to consider the condolence note. When I first signed up for this workshop by Carol Henderson, I think I was hoping for a lecture on the science of writing to the bereaved. But, alas, as Carol demonstrated, writing is an art, and one needs a compassionate pen when communicating with the bereaved.

As usual in the workshops she leads, Carol brought in her own life experience. To discuss which kinds of condolence notes are more helpful than others, Carol drew from losses she has suffered, including the death of her first child (which she wrote about in her first book, Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief).

Carol shared several notes that she had received over the years to help illustrate specific wording that is helpful – and some that is less so. The problem letters were too general or contained too many clichés and platitudes. Also problematic were those that purported to know just how the bereaved felt or what she should expect. (Although sometimes it can be comforting to hear these things from someone who has been through a similar situation and is offering possibilities rather than certainties.)

More comforting are acknowledgements of the death and using specific language: specifics about what the deceased meant to us, about things we remember about the deceased, and about ways that we might be helpful. Rather than writing, “Call if there is anything that I can do,” one might say, “I can take you to lunch one day next week,” or, “I go to the grocery store every Wednesday; let me know if I can pick anything up for you.”

Before the workshop, I went through a group of letters that I had received after my daddy’s death. It was interesting to look at them and find the ones that really meant something to me – and still do. They were the ones that mentioned specific things about Daddy and his life: memories they had of my talking about him or things that had stood out to them in his obituary. It made me happy that a friend would take the time to read about my daddy’s life and comment on it to me.

Carol emphasized that the most important thing is that we find a card (or a sheet of notebook paper, for that matter!), sit down, and write a few sentences from our hearts. And so at the end of the workshop, we took what we learned and each wrote a condolence note. We found that taking the time and energy to write a note is a concrete way to let the bereaved know they are surrounded by love. Just this small act conveys volumes.

Carol Henderson and Participants in The Art of the Condolence Note

Tuesdays With Tillis

by Savannah Lynn

Tuesdays With Tillis

Photo Credit: Savannah Lynn

Bodies were scattered across the sidewalk outside of Thom Tillis’s office on New Bern Avenue in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday, June 20th. A news van was parked across the street. Bystanders stood vigilant nearby on the sidewalk, alternately looking over their fallen comrades and up at the dark, glossy windows of the federal building.

RCWMS board member Karen Ziegler, from her position prone on the grass, called the okay, and the “dead” arose.

In a gruesome premonition of the lives that could be lost should “Trumpcare” pass the U.S. Senate, sixty-odd citizens of the Triangle and surrounding areas gathered as part of the ongoing “Tuesdays with Tillis” series of protests. They staged a “die-in,” a nonviolent/civil disobedience tactic; holding tombstones reading “KILLED BY TRUMPCARE” and “R.I.P. MEDICARE,” folks used their bodies to occupy space (“dying” on the ground) and send a message to Senator Tillis. The die-in was added into the usual Tuesdays with Tillis programming: a brief introduction, a round of chanting and circling the building with signs, a reading of letters and an airing of grievances, a few songs, and an opportunity for folks to go two-by-two into the building to speak with Tillis’s staff and write comments in the visitor’s log.

Tuesdays with Tillis has been filling this space from 11:30am to 12:30pm every Tuesday (rain or shine) since the presidential inauguration in January. It was started by a group of citizens and is kept going by Karen Ziegler and Nancy Jacobs, who email out the week’s issue and program faithfully. Every week, protesters focus on a different topic, usually one that is imminently relevant in the landscape of U.S. politics. What with the debate raging about the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacement with what is being called “Trumpcare,” healthcare justice has been the Tuesday topic for the past couple of weeks. Past topics include reproductive justice, Russia’s potential interference in the U.S. election, the release of Trump’s tax returns, and the refusal of Sen. Tillis to meet with constituents. The day of the die-in, however, was one of the best-attended Tuesdays since the event’s inception in January. CBS News and other outlets ran coverage on the protest.

Tuesdays with Tillis protesters are asking for Thom Tillis to hold a town hall with his constituents in order to discuss some of the issues that have been on the minds of North Carolinians recently. Though asked by CBS to comment on the day’s protest, Tillis gave no response.

Resource Center staff members have been attending the weekly protests regularly; look carefully at the videoclips and you can spot Jeanette Stokes, as well as interns Colleen and Savannah. Come out and join us every Tuesday morning at 310 New Bern Avenue!