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Written condolences work better

Often the written words can be more effective than spoken condolences at touching the part of a person's heart which is grieving.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2006 17:47 IST

Grief is the most patient and persistent of all of life's companions.
It is an ancient, universal power that links all human beings together.
-Molly Fumia, Safe Passage

Grief, sorrow, death and condolence, perhaps are too serious a subject to dwell upon in today's column, but certain events of such sombre nature in the past few weeks compel me to bring not just this issue, but our responses to it, in focus.

A close friend recently lost a favourite relative, who was not just her friend, philosopher and guide but, as Manini so poetically put it, "the proverbial ray of light in my life."

The loss devastated Manini, but she put up a brave front, not because there were no tears to shed but because she did not want her already suffering family to crumble under the grief. The funeral formalities over, it was back to routine. Life after all never takes a beating in the face of death. And the business of living goes on, come what may. So it was with Manini.

She joined work in the hope that getting back into the office mode would keep her mind off more depressing concerns. But it was a hope misplaced, if the collective response of her seniors and colleagues was anything to go by. "Oh, good you are back Manini, we are horribly short-staffed .

Now you can handle at least your part of the responsibilities," Manini's immediate senior greeted her. "Not a word of sympathy, no condolence, not even a token 'how are you'! More than being angry, I was shocked by their callousness and self-centred attitude.

Have we become so insensitive that we do not look beyond our immediate interests? It was most depressing to be back to work,'' was her wry comment. Manini's is a case in point of where our so-called social skills are headed. But we can still redeem ourselves by being more socially conscious and a little more thoughtful about the other person's loss.

We owe it to our relatives, friends and colleagues the moral obligation of alleviating their plight and encouraging them to be composed in their stressful moments. It is never easy to simply offer sympathies. We may feel awkward, inhibited, inadequate, uncomfortable, at a loss for words and unable to verbally convey what we're thinking and feeling without sounding contrived, but that is no reason for not offering comfort or support. A good way of doing so is to be honest and simple.

Stick to a simple "I'm sorry about your loss", or "my sympathies", if all else fails you. Maintain eye contact with the person you are addressing. If it is a friend, then a hug or holding their hand would not be out of place. It is always the proper thing to attend the funeral or at least visit the family of the deceased at home.

This is not just a gesture of sympathy or to show that you care but also a much valuable lesson to remind us of the inevitability of death. Few gestures are as meaningful to someone who has lost a loved one than a condolence letter. No matter what else you have done — attended the funeral, sent flowers, paid a visit to the home of the bereaved, telephoned, sent an e-mail — the condolence letter will stand out for its kindness.

Such letters are both comforting and diverting for those who have lost a family member. Often the written words can be more effective than spoken condolences at touching the part of a person's heart which is grieving. And don't take the easy way out by sending condolence cards, for remember true feelings can never be pre-packaged!