• The Importance of The Handwritten Note — Relationships
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

The Importance of The Handwritten Note — Relationships

Dear Didi,

This is about relationships. A good friend’s last remaining parent died and I’ve been trying to be as helpful as I can. Do I still need to write her a personal note? Or would that be just another note she’d have to acknowledge? Should I send her a condolence card or do I have to write a letter? She asked me if she needs to write to 150 people who ‘Liked’ the photo of her parent that she posted on Facebook to announce the parent’s death or can she just ‘Reply’ with a quick ‘Thank You’? If she thanked friends in person for their flowers at the funeral, does she still have to send a sympathy acknowledgement?

–EH, Boston

Dear EH,

Handwriting is the most elegant form of communication in relationships. The whole exercise of expressive note writing whether in sympathy or gratitude -- even a few lines on a commercial condolence card and finding a stamp (who has those any longer?) -- is part of the mourning process. You can send your friend a handwritten note on your best stationery (even if its left over from your wedding) or a thoughtful greeting card. BillMiller59242542781T Trust me. It will make you happier to write her a note. In many instances, including that of the survivor, writing is cathartic for mourning. There is a de-escalation process where the survivor reciprocates, acknowledging in writing the death of their parent to friends and family; when she sends acknowledgement cards that include a short message she's accepting her grief. Expressing the loss of that relationship is therapeutic for the writer as well as the survivor Hopefully, these simple guidelines will make it easier to understand: With the case for handwriting your message, the evidence is evident. We now know from recent brain scan studies that early handwriting helps kids to learn how to read, and that keyboards don't have the same effect. Forming the letters with a pen/pencil enables children to break the code by producing more brain activity than merely viewing letters on a keyboard. There's more evidence that handwriting lecture notes, compared to typing on a laptop or iPhone, improves learning for college students.
  • The gratitude letter that your friend would be writing in return is positive psychology. It is written as a specific expression of thanks to a person who has been especially thoughtful, kind or important to her. Apparently, 99% of the time the gratitude letter works. And why wouldn't it?
As I said before, handwriting is the most elegant form of communication. It makes you happier, smarter and more endearing. In most instances, handwriting is another tool for thinking, expression, creativity, and communication. BillMiller59242543012 BillMiller59242272506 A good handwritten letter
  • is personal and is personalized (when you send a tweet, email, text, or FB message, you should still follow up with a handwritten note or card when you know the person well.)
  • represents the writer's undivided attention (unlike an email or phone call while multi-tasking at work.)
  • is a thoughtful gesture appreciated for its effort, time spent writing it and finding a stamp. People remember who wrote a heartfelt letter and who sent a text.
BillMiller59242069823T The gratitude letter
  • for a gift of any kind or any occasion acknowledgement is appreciated. It sustains the relationship. If I spend half a day making a meatloaf and cherry pie to bring you while you're recuperating from a knee replacement, I am grateful to receive a handwritten message of appreciation.
  • is appreciated when someone goes out of their way (again, spending time on you) to introduce you to someone who becomes your boss, mentor, investor, or business partner; or pulls strings for you.
images-134 A condolence letter
  • can be sent anytime, the sooner the better, however, there are no rules or time constraints.
  • should never include unhelpful phrases (see below).
  • is NOT about being profound.
  • is all about acknowledging a death and expressing genuine sympathy.
  • is not the place to compare losses (saying you've experienced the same loss could annoy the person).
          What NOT to say:
  • It's for the best.
  • I/we know how you feel. (You don't know how they feel, no matter how well you think you know the person.)
  • He lived a full life.
  • My mother had ______, too.
  • How are you? Obviously, they're hurting
  • It was the right time -- because she may have been let go.
          What to AVOID:
  • Don't promise to help, if you're not sure you will.
  • Don't go on too long, because brevity is key.
  • Don't go into the drastic circumstances of the deceased.
  • Don't say anything even vaguely religious, unless it is appropriate.Don't sign off with just Sincerely, which sounds cold.
          When you don't know the person well, how to sign off in closing:
  • With sympathy,
  • Please accept our condolences,
  • Our sincere sympathy,
  • With caring thoughts,
  • With deepest sympathy,
  • Warmest condolences,
  • With deepest sympathy for your loss,
BillMiller59242542755           When you know the recipient well:
  • With love,
  • With loving memories,
  • Thinking of you,
  • Our thoughts are of you, our hearts are with you,
          Add the deceased's name in the closing -- even if it is a pet:
  • Stella will never be forgotten,
  • Toby will live on in our hearts,
  • Louis will remain in our hearts,
  • We will never forget Elaine,

Much appreciation to the Printery, Oyster Bay, New York,

for the use of all of the exquisite samples above.


  • Death of The Thank-You Note
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Death of The Thank-You Note

Dear Didi,

As a working mother I’ve found it a hell of a lot easier to email one generic thank-you note which I personalize slightly for each person before clicking send. Alternating between adding ‘thank you for having us at your holiday party’ to ‘thanks ever so much for the delicious tin of cheese straws.’

My sister says the recipient will assume I copied the email and wrote the same thank-you note to everyone. Isn’t it better to send a thank-you note any way I can and get the job done with an email, rather than agonizing over writing by hand every note and never finishing the arduous task?

–EH, Roxbury, MA

Dear EH,

A handwritten thank-you note trumps any other kind of expression of gratitude -- even a phone call.
  • Take shortcuts if you have to with an thank you e-card (such as a Jacquie Lawson @ jacquielawson.com) but when sustaining the relationship is of the utmost importance to you, use that stationery or the correspondence cards in the back of your drawer and write a heartfelt letter of appreciation with your favorite pen.
  • A thank-you card or letter is best mailed within two weeks.
  • Reasons to write a thank-you card: To express gratitude for support, whether for a job interview, reference, letter of recommendation; to acknowledge the receipt of a present for a holiday, birthday, wedding, christening, communion, anniversary, graduation; in appreciation for a condolence letter for the loss of a loved one; or for having been invited to a professional or social event.
  • From an early age, children who learn to write thank-you notes expressing their thanks for a specific present develop a livelong skill, the art of showing appreciation:

Dear Uncle Tom, Thank you for my bike I like having a basket to carry my ball and a bell to ring. Dad is teaching me how to ride it. Love from, Charlie B.


Thank You 8_edited-1


  • Burial Mishap
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Burial Mishap

Dear Didi,

My husband’s father was buried in a place that was not of his choosing. Sorting out his files after he died, I found handwritten instructions that specified a different cemetery and a different method of burial. After her husband died, my mother-in-law said he should be buried, after being embalmed, in a different cemetery close to their home. The handwritten instructions said he wanted to be cremated and buried in a cemetery a few towns away where his own father was buried.

My mother-in-law died shortly afterward and was buried next to my husband’s father. Knowing what we found out, should we have moved my father-in-law to the other cemetery after having him cremated? Should we move them both now? If they weren’t religious and not affiliated with either church does it make a difference?

–S.S., Wilton, CT

Dear S.S.,

To avoid a burial mishap, not only should a responsible person leave burial instructions, but they should also tell those around them their wishes. Offering up the information by talking about the disposition of their body and the location of the burial lot should be as important to talk about as who gets grandmother's diamond ring -- if not more important. It sounds as though either your husband's parents didn't communicate or they weren't interested in discussing the inevitable. Your mother-in-law voiced her choice as the only choice. Let it be. img_4542


  • Family Funerals
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Family Funerals

Dear Didi,

My daughter-in-law and I are fairly close. Should I go to her mother’s funeral even though I never met her?

–Melinda, Illinois

Dear Melinda,

About family funerals and whether to attend or not when you never met the deceased. You would attend the funeral of your daughter-in-law's mother in support of your son's wife and the extended family you share. Understandably, a daughter has a hard time when her mother dies, no matter how difficult the relationship may or may not have been. Sadly, the most arduous mother-daughter relationships may be the hardest deaths to deal with because of deeply rooted unresolved issues. Suggest specific things that you could do to help your daughter-in-law through this difficult time -- such as offering to help with the preparations for the service or reception, or by keeping track of the condolence flowers and cards; providing a dinner one night for your son's family; helping to pack up and vacate the deceased's house or apartment and dispersing and/or disposing of her mother's worldly goods. These are a few of the many ways your welcomed assistance will be useful while your daughter-in-law struggles to accept her loss. On the other hand, your daughter-in-law could shut you out and not want any help at this time, but don't take it personally. For the moment she may be withdrawing from family and friends in an effort to pull herself together. Give her all the time she needs to make the huge adjustment of losing a parent. We all go through the mourning process in our own way and in our own time. It may be that your daughter-in-law will need your friendship most weeks or months from now when the funeral is but a sad memory. Her mother's death is a bitter loss. 15funeral_sharp-2 If your son and daughter-in-law have children, their children -- your grandchildren -- will find comfort in knowing that their father's mother is alive, well, and presently on the scene. Your presence would be greatly appreciated. Grandmothers are memory makers. Even if they are not part of the child's daily routine, they come to the rescue when her family needs her moral support. 697497821e4a4f6bbaa5cf2e2f413522_t1070_ha2ef2ee0118c1bbc55320aa7b9bcc611796c0567


  • Memorial To My Sister
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Memorial To My Sister

Dear Didi,

My sister died this past spring in Italy, where she had lived for many years. As an artist, I felt I had to create a work — a memorial to my sister — and have cards made up of the image to send to her friends. Is that appropriate? Even though we lived in different countries, we were close and I took care of her as well as I could. I spent a few days with her two weeks before she died when we said our good-byes.

Friends of hers have written their condolences, but since Italian is not my native tongue, I want to send them the image I created for my sister that is helping me through my deep feelings of grief. She was buried with her husband who predeceased her, so I feel as her brother this is something I can do to commemorate her life. Is it OK? She was always greatly supportive of my work.

–B.J., Westport, CT

Dear B.J.,

What a truly wonderful expression of appreciation for the life of your sister. Through a memorial to your sister in the form of an original work of art printed on a card, you are immortalizing her. You will not have to have too many words in the card following a powerful image. It could be as simple as her name above the years of her her life. Adding a few handwritten words of appreciation before signing your name would be perfect:

With much appreciation,

most sincerely and all

good wishes,

Don't give this creative instinct a second thought. In your own time and in your own way, you are stating that your sister will be remembered.


  • Funeral Reception Etiquette — Dutch Treat
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Funeral Reception Etiquette — Dutch Treat

Dear Didi,

What is the funeral reception etiquette for asking people to pay for their lunch at the luncheon? We cannot afford to feed anyone other than ourselves after a graveside memorial service. A family member suggested we should organize a luncheon at a beloved restaurant after the service and let everyone know in advance that they are welcome to join us, but they would have to pay for their own meal. How do we put that in the invitation/announcement?

My mother-in-law stipulated that she did not want a formal funeral reception. We thought of having a potluck luncheon in our home, but the list of people wanting to attend the funeral is growing and our home is small. We struggle to make ends meet monthly. The idea of asking people to buy their own meal is fine and the restaurant holds many memories for my husband, as it did for his mom. I can’t think of a kind way of saying, “Buy your own meal, if you want to join us in the invitation.” Should it be done?

–Janet, Minnesota

Dear Janet,

It's OK to suggest that people pay their own way. What you want them to understand is that instead of sending flowers, they join you and your family for a Dutch Treat luncheon at your family's favorite restaurant after the gravesite memorial service. Say that she didn't want a formal funeral reception and would rather have her family and friends mourn her death happily in her favorite restaurant.

The invitation, centered on a card or email and substituting your own information, could go something like this:

The family of Alice May Brown cordially invites you to mourn her death cheerfully at dutch treat luncheon in her honor at her favorite family restaurant, by paying for your own lunch instead of sending flowers.

Immediately following the 11:00pm graveside memorial service we hope you can meet  us on Thursday, July 18th at the Blue Heron Restaurant, 228 Valley Road, Minneapolis. MI. 

RSVP to jbrown@gmail.com or 431-456-6711. Please let us know if you are planning to attend the luncheon so we can reserve enough tables.

I hope you like the tone of this invitation because it is meant to sound as though this is how your mother-in-law would have wanted to be mourned.

What you say to friends is that in lieu of flowers, you would rather they attend a dutch treat lunch in her honor.

Ahead of time, find out from the restaurant the approximate cost of how much the average lunch costs, in case someone asks you'll want to know the answer. By talking to the manager or owner, you may be able to work out a set price for a three course lunches that has two options for the entree.


  • What to Say And Not Say at A Funeral
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

What to Say And Not Say at A Funeral

Dear Didi,

Not to sound socially inept, but how does one know what to say and not say at a funeral or in a condolence letter? I hear people uttering silly comments such as, “She is in a better place,” or “He is with God now.” What exactly is the funeral etiquette for what should be said and not said?

–E.F., Portland, OR

Dear E.F.,

There are words and phrases that are spoken because they are appropriate, and other cliches that should not be said at a funeral or in a condolence letter. It is safest to keep personal feelings to yourself. No matter how religious you are, the survivor -- the spouse, partner, child, parent, colleague or friend -- may be far too angry to be feeling good about listening to cliches -- religious or otherwise -- that they don't find comforting. Hold your tongue, cliches are not always consoling and can actually annoy the survivor. Everyone deals with the death of a loved one in their own way and in their own time. You don't really know how bad they're hurting, because you are not the survivor. Don't say: He is in a better place now, God had a plan for her, Because you're still young you'll find another husband, She is in God's hands now, Oh, dear, you poor thing, I know what you're going through, God has his plan, I know how you're feeling right now, It will get better, My uncle died of the same thing. People never truly understand the death of a loved one until it happens to them. Nor would you say months later, I would have called you sooner but I didn't want to be intrusive (or I thought you would be too busy). Instead, offer to pay for the bartender at the reception or help with the acknowledgements for the flowers. More importantly, don't make a gesture you do not follow up on, such as saying, "Let's have lunch next week and go to a movie, I'll call you." It would be better not to suggest a plan, rather than make one and not follow through with it. She may be anticipating the distraction after family and friends have gone back to their routines leaving her alone with sad thoughts. Nor would you ask, What can I do for you? Do something even if it is baking a coffee cake, walking her dog, mowing the lawn, or paying a funeral expense. Don't ask personal questions: What happened to your son? When are you going to sell your house? How are you? Let me know if I can help? Do you want me to rid of some of her personal things so you're not reminded of him? Be helpful by not asking, How can I help? Try taking the family prepared food, helping with the acknowledgements, and making sure the widowed isn't alone too much. There are all sorts of ways to pitch in and help. Take her out for a walk or go for a swim. Play golf with him. The widowed are not physically incapacitated and could be craving companionship after the brouhaha of the funeral. Eventually the survivor will find a new normal at their own pace. Often weeks or months after the death of a loved one is when your friendship is needed the most. About condolence cards and letters. The same mindfulness applies. Don't start every sentence with the pronoun I and talk about yourself. The person is too wrapped up in their own grief to relate to how you felt when your loved one died from same illness. And don't ever write, I know what you're going through. Because you don't. Nobody does. Only the survivor knows what they feel. Instead, write, You and your children (family) are in our thoughts and we want you all to come for dinner on Friday, July 12th at seven o'clock. I'll call you to confirm. You can certainly express your sorrow and sympathy by writing (or saying), I am deeply sorry for your loss, or, You have my deepest sympathy. Most importantly, be a good listener. It takes patience to listen to a recently widowed person's reminiscences. Show interest by encouraging him to share stories about the deceased's triumphs, missteps, accomplishments, and most of all her sense of humor. Start by reminding him of an anecdote of your own about the deceased. Remember something funny or clever the deceased said or did to leave the mourner with another memory, especially a good one, to cherish.


  • What about Signing off An Email
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

What about Signing off An Email

Dear Didi,

What is the etiquette for signing off an email for business and personal emails? I certainly don’t do Xs and Os, but Yours truly, and Sincerely, don’t work for me.


–A.D., Chicago, IL

Dear A.D.,

Even in business, signing off an email is personal because it reflects who you are. Express your personality -- even a little bit. When closing with Yours truly, Best wishes, Kind regards, or Sincerely, you leave the reader with a bland feeling, blah, blah, blah.... How you end a communication varies depending on the context and your relationship with the recipient. Use Respectfully, or Respectfully yours, when recommending someone for a job or membership, because it means: I respect you and this other person enough to recommend or endorse you both. A friendlier, yet still business-like closing, would be to write: Have a great weekend. To close an email dialogue for the rest of the day: Have a great night -- meaning that's it from me on this end (so don't bother texting). Or, when there is a special occasion or event: Have a wonderful vacation -- holiday, honeymoon, afternoon delight, trip, sabbatical, birthday weekend, or Thanksgiving. Personally, I adore singing off with Cheers, but to some people it sounds too British and thus pretentious. When I'm emailing my really good friend we don't sign off. We assume we'll be back online where we left off eventually and leave the conversation open- ended. Then we pick back up without a Hi or Dear -- the way you don't sign off a text. For a get well ending I'll use: All best wishes for a speedy (swift) recovery, You'll be back in circulation before you know it, I'll see you on the dance floor in August, Sympathy: You're in my thoughts, or I'll be thinking of you, Condolence: You and John are in my thoughts and prayers, or Bill joins me in sending our best wishes, I'm not a big fan of XXOO or Hugs. I never use them. They seems too middle-school. If I truly love someone, I'll end: Love, Didi With my children it is always unconditional: Lots of love always, For friends: Hope to see you soon, Let's get together soon, Talk to you soon, Until Thursday, See you for dinner Saturday, Closing a message to a colleague: Wonderful to hear from you, Great job, Keep  up the good work, Work well done. When I don't know what to say because the message is philanthropic, I use: Kindest regards, and With much appreciation, That's all for now, cheers,    


  • Facebook Life after Death
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Facebook Life after Death

Dear Didi,

Periodically, Facebook reminds me of a friend or acquaintance who is dead. Either because it is his birthday and it wants me to wish him a happy day or it wants me to recommend people whom he should friend. If something happened to me, I would not want my face to hauntingly appear in the ‘Friends’ section of the timelines of members of my family and friends. In other words, what is the etiquette for Facebook life after death?

–Ophelia, Grosse Pointe, MI

Dear Ophelia,

There does not have to be any life after death on Facebook. You have the option of appointing a "legacy contact." This executor of your account takes charge of the memorials after you're dead. You instruct him or her as to your wishes. He or she has privileges that allow your profile photo and information to be updated. Your legacy contact can even be changed. However, take note that this memorialized contact cannot be changed once you're gone. From your account settings in your browser or on your mobile, select Security. Choose 'Legacy Contact' and type in the name of a Facebook friend to add as your legacy contact. If you would rather not have a memorialized timeline, you can choose the option of having your Facebook permanently deleted. However, even without a legacy contact your family can report your death to Facebook and place a memorialization request. Either way, your account name appears with the word "Remembering" in front of your name. In setting your security settings accordingly, friends will be able to post reminiscing comments on your timeline. Facebook states that account holders with memorialized accounts can be assured that their name and face won't appear in birthday announcements and advertisements, nor on the People You May Know list of friend suggestions. Otherwise, request to have your account deleted after you die.



  • Making A Memorial Service Private
  • Creative Etiquette Solutions

Making A Memorial Service Private

Dear Didi,

How do we contain the numbers at a memorial service in our church? My husband died and a good friend is hosting a dinner reception after the service, which will take place in three weeks.

The problem is this. The restaurant can only accommodate so many people, because of the strict fire code. My apartment is too small. Relatives and friends are coming from other states, our children’s friends will feel they have to attend, and everyone will expect to be invited to some sort of reception afterwards, which I cannot afford to host.

–N.W., Providence, RU

Dear N.W.,

In other words, making a memorial service private. Even if an obituary of your husband has already appeared in your local paper, take out a paid obituary announcing your husband's death and stating that there will be a 'private memorial service,' 'private family memorial service' or simply use, Memorial Service Private. Let the church know the service is private and by invitation only. The church should be able to rope off the nave (the main area) of the church for invited mourners. The officiate should NOT announce the reception following the service. Mourners who were not personally invited to the memorial service will sit in the areas of the church not roped off. Most likely the aisles (the sides of the church that run along the nave) and the transept (the area that crosses the nave near the top of the church). You cannot keep mourners out of the church, but you can delegate who sits where. When there is no announcement or information in the memorial program about a reception, those not personally invited will pick up on the fact that the reception is private. A memorial (funeral) invitation is a letter or card inviting the recipient to attend the memorial service (or funeral) to celebrate the life of the deceased. Written in a formal third person tone, it is sent immediately after the confirmation of the Memorial Service date, venue, and time. More recently, email letters and phone calls are used to rally the mourners. The invitation may include an admittance card to the church, such as this:

Admit Bearer

to service for

Mr. John Douglas Wilson

Thursday, May twentieth, 2015

At five o'clock, P.M.

St. James Episcopal Church

 Here are a couple of samples of memorial and funeral service invitations:Funeral announcment-1