two letters of condolence; and how (in my opinion) to write one

 

 

 

Two letters of condolence are posted here:

from my father to the wife of a deceased relative

from me to the wife of high school classmate of mine

 

 

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Dad's letter of condolence.jpg

 

 

my father, Alan W. Smith

December 1971

 

Dear Carolyn,

I don’t know when I’ve been so saddened by news as I was at that of Arthur’s death. We saw at the marina and Chart Room [where my father was pianist], just one small segment of his activities, I know, yet when I think of the way the room lighted up when he entered, I realize what a void there will be in many, many places.

Elinor and I extend our deepest sympathy to you.

With affection,

Alan Smith

 

 

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Roger Smith to Carol Minkwitz

October 2015

 

 

Dear Carol,

Hello. I had some contact with Bob Seavey via email this weekend. I wanted to get in touch with him.

I heard back from him about Russ’s passing. In high school, we used to call him Rusty.

I was awfully sad to hear the news. It has affected me all day. I knew Russ was very ill, since you told me about it at our 50th reunion. I knew he had ALS, a terrible disease, as we all know. Still, his death comes as a shock.

I remember Russ from our 45th reunion. He was one of the people I was most glad to see. He looked great then, and no doubt no one knew then of his impending illness.

You know, at events like a reunion, you can be a bit apprehensive about seeing people again after all those years. With Russ, I felt completely at ease right off the bat. I was so glad to see him. He was so friendly, so well spoken. He made it plain that he was glad to see me.

And, of course I remember Russ from high school. What do I remember about him? That he was handsome, a great athlete, and a very good student. He was a true scholar-athlete.

What else do I remember about him? Russ was a truly nice person. He was soft spoken and modest. He never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was good natured in general and took kidding well.

We were in Mr. Badoian’s math class together (along with you), and Russ really liked the class and Mr. Badoian. (I think math was his favorite subject.) Mr. Badoian, in turn, liked Russ. When he found out that Russ had a girlfriend, he used to kid him about it. Russ, as usual, took the teasing modestly and well.

At our 45th reunion, Russ told me a little about his student days at Penn State. He played under Coach Paterno, I believe. He said he really regretted quitting football because of an injury. I appreciated Russ’s candor. I could relate to what he said because there are things I regret (don’t we all) not having done when I was young, when I had the opportunity.

I can’t imagine what a loss it must be to you, Carol. I am truly sorry. I hope your children and grandchildren can be some consolation to you.

I have great memories of Russ, who was one of my favorite classmates. Please know that he lives on in my memory.

I will make it a point from here on to stay in touch with you.

Warmest regards,

 

Roger

 

 

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My advice for writing such letters:

keep it simple

don’t say or invent things that are not true

don’t effuse, especially if you didn’t know the person well

use details, especially those that call the person to mind

Don’t effuse. Note that my father observed this principle in his letter, but he wrote a kind letter that was not cold or impersonal.

Use details, especially those that call the person to mind. This last principle seems to often get overlooked. It is my belief that these little details give comfort. And, the letter writer is giving a kind of offering, better than flowers. Because, if you can think of details about the deceased person that you remember with pleasure, and you share them with that person’s family, they will have something to add to their store of memories. Such details can be comforting and help to preserve the person’s memory.

An example of this last principle (use details) is provided by a eulogy by her former minister given at my mother’s memorial service in 1973. It was not a letter of condolence — it was a eulogy delivered in a memorial service — but the minister’s words on that occasion are worth quoting. He said:

I can remember Elinor sitting with Alan [my father was church organist] each Sunday in the balcony of the First Parish Unitarian Church of Canton. I felt she was cheering me on, and I never really got over the disappointment of not seeing her there, during the years of her illness.

I can remember Monday mornings spent over a cup of tea in the Smith kitchen. The warmth of that kitchen was Elinor’s warmth: it was the warmth and strength of her concern and her caring. Were I to return to that room now, I would still feel it.

I too remember my mother’s kitchen. But, what the minister said reinforced and strengthened that memory, and I was very glad to realize that others felt the same way about the special place she made it.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017

 

 

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
This entry was posted in Alan W. Smith (Roger W. Smith's father), Elinor Handy Smith (Roger W. Smith's mother), epistolary (letter writing as a genre; letters as examples of good writing), general interest and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to two letters of condolence; and how (in my opinion) to write one

  1. organiststeve says:

    Just so you know…I always read your posts and look forward to them. Even in the face of dozens of messages a day, you have something worth reading and thinking about. Thanks!

    To which Chart Room does Alan Smith refer? I always think of the one in Cataumet — built on a barge in the harbor, and with a piano ready to entertain guests. It’s been a beloved gathering spot for years.

    I tried again to uncover added details about Pocasset Tragedy, but my added digging didn’t uncover anything else. Eventually I studied the Nurse Toppan story instead, and when that got too dead, I switched to the Melvin Reine horror and the Kilduff attempted murder just a few doors away. Little Pocasset had quit a history!

    Best from Steve

  2. Steve — your comment is deeply appreciated. Thank you. My father was pianist for many
    years at the Chart Room at the Cataumet Marina.

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