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Condolence notes I’ve treasured

Last month I shared what life and loss have taught me about the writing of condolence notes. That post already ranks with the most popular I’ve written since this site began almost two years ago. So here I am with an open file folder of the letters that sustained me after the death of my mother, the author and broadcaster Fredelle Maynard. Almost 20 years later, I still reread my favourites. They remind me of the power we all have to lighten one another’s burdens.

What makes these particular letters so consoling? See for yourself (I’ve changed the names of the writers to protect their privacy):

From a friend of mine who didn’t know my mother:

Dear Rona,

I read in the papers today that your mother had died, and I wanted to write and express my sympathy to you and your family. I thought there was a fine tribute in the notice placed by your family as well as the newspaper pieces. I found it a consolation in the days after my mother’s death to try to bear in mind what a great achievement it is to live one’s life well—and your mother certainly illustrated that belief. We mourn their passing but we should also try to celebrate how fully they put their lives to splendid use. It helps, I think.

Your sincerely,


From a cousin who knew my mother only through family stories, and had mourned her own mother:

Dear Rona,

I was so sorry to hear of your mother’s death. Even though it was expected, I know your loss is devastating. My thoughts will be with you as you go this most difficult first year—your first birthday without her, first holiday season… The heart aches from a loss that can never be diminished. But there is comfort in knowing that as human beings this is something we all share. Be kind to and gentle with yourself in your grief, as she would have wanted you to be.



From a professional colleague of my mother’s and mine (later one of my friends):

Dear Rona,

I was saddened to hear of the death of your mother.course….I didn’t know her well, but she was such a striking personality that she looms large in my memory.

I think I’ve told you that when I was a very young and green girl my first job after university was as a book publicist for Doubleday. And my first author was Fredelle. (She gave me a false impression that all of Doubleday’s authors were warm, vibrant and interesting human beings, and that all of Doubleday’s books were worth publishing.) Later—was it five years ago?—I met her again, and she invited me over for tea, or coffee, at her house that was all green-and-white. I was charmed and to this day think that living in a green-and-white house is a wonderful idea. I suppose I didn’t get to know her better because she was the kind of person who asked very direct questions and who, you felt, knew all of your most intimate secrets even if you didn’t tell them to her. That unnerved me.

I will miss having her in this world.

With best wishes,


From one of my mother’s oldest and closest friends:

My dear Rona,

This is only to say that I think of you all the time and wish I could say something wise and helpful. I can’t, really; can only say that losing my mother was something I never recovered from and, I hope, never shall—Fredelle and I agreed about not wanting to stop grieving for our mothers. Being a daughter is immensely different from being a friend, but from knowing and loving Fredelle and from having lost a mother I have an idea of what you must be feeling.

We’ll meet before long. Meanwhile remember me to Paul and to Ben. If anything occurs to you that I can do, let me know. Thank you very much for telephoning me the day Fredelle died.

With love,


From a new friend of my mother’s:

To Rona and Joyce,

Memories of your mother are a cherished part of my very being. I share in the celebration of her special joy. Hers was a remarkably frank life—few of us are so willing to divulge our talents and our faults so uncompromisingly. I will miss her deeply, but know she would will me to think of her only in happiness, not with sadness.

This is not an easy letter to write and in a way—since you are already acutely aware of how profoundly your mother’s life and writing touched others—it’s unnecessary, but it is very important to me. Snapshots have flooded my mind—vivid recollections of the wonderful and wonder-filled person you called “mother” and I called “friend.” She was and is vital to me.



What strikes me about these letters is how different they are in tone and content. There’s no one right way to write a condolence note; you have to the style that works for you (trust me, you’ll have plenty of practice). Wendy’s letter doesn’t follow the principles I laid out in my previous post—it’s about Wendy’s bond with my mother, not about my loss and my sister’s. Yet it’s fresh, sincere and deeply felt. Rereading this letter today, I picture Wendy sitting with me in a sidewalk cafe, telling stories about my mother. I’m glad to know that she’s remembered.

Click here to learn about my mother’s books.


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