Manners in Times of Sorrow: Your Questions Answered
We asked a Southern etiquette expert to tackle these delicate dilemmas.
Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy, but the casseroles, flowers, and kind words delivered by our Southern neighbors often provide some much-needed comfort. Since this outpouring of support is customary in our region, it's common for Southerners to struggle with the best ways to show love and gratitude after a death. Many of our dear readers shared these issues with us in our Facebook group, There's No Excuse for Bad Manners. We took your thoughtful questions straight to Diane Gottsman, the founder of the Protocol School of Texas. Read her tactful solutions below and head to our Facebook group to ask any remaining queries.
After a close family member passed away, I received an overwhelming amount of kindness from family and friends. I would like to write thank-you notes to everyone, but it might take me some time to send them. Would it be appropriate to send an initial thank-you text, followed up by a handwritten note?
First of all, I am sorry for your loss. I know it’s a difficult time and it sounds as if you have been warmly embraced with love and support. If you feel the need to text someone immediately, by all means, go ahead, but don’t put pressure on yourself to text every person who has reached out. People understand that it’s a difficult time and they don’t expect an immediate response. However, acknowledging the people who dropped by food and extended other acts of kindness with a thank you note (when you are ready) is a very kind gesture.
An out-of-town friend lost her husband suddenly and has requested an alternative way for family and loved ones to show their support. I plan to send a sympathy card, but would it be appropriate to also send her flowers?
Wanting to send flowers as a “thinking about you” gift is a lovely touch, but there may be a reason she asked for an alternative. I would suggest you reach out to her and ask her out to lunch or for a cup of tea, perhaps bring her a bouquet the next time you’re in town. Or, after the initial few weeks when everyone has gone back home and life settles in, send her flowers to let her know you are thinking about her. Your thoughtfulness is admirable and your desire to let her know you care is touching.
There are some situations when flowers are not appropriate, however. Make sure it does not conflict with a custom or a religious tradition. Sometimes, people are allergic or sensitive to a particular scent. Most often, flowers are a lovely and most appropriate gesture. You sound like a great friend.
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After a close relative of a dear friend passed away, I attended the funeral, took time to visit the family home, and brought a gift. Is it also necessary to send a sympathy card by mail? Is a handwritten note an important expression of our love during this difficult time?
You have no doubt been a great source of support for your friend. A sympathy card is not obligatory. However, if you choose to send one it will no doubt go into a collection of other cards which are meaningful keepsakes for the family to look through at another time. There is no right or wrong answer to your question, however, you can never go wrong by sharing your time and your love. You clearly have done both.
Can't decide what to bring to a grieving family after a funeral? Borrow our Travel Editor's idea for the "Best Covered Dish Ever."