When ‘thoughts and prayers’ don’t seem to be enough

It took three tries, but I finally came up with some words of sympathy for a family that lost a wife and mother to cancer at age 54.

I hadn’t seen any of the family for a few years, as our common bond — sons in the same grade who played on the same basketball team — evaporated when the boys went off to college.

I knew of the family’s health crisis, and would occasionally hear updates from members of the community. I hadn’t heard anything for quite some time, and it was a shock to see the obituary. Memories of our sons’ time together came flooding back.

My son had already known his friend’s mom had died when I called him. The next day, and the day after that, I logged on to the funeral home website’s guestbook to offer condolences from our family. As usual, I froze.

Cliches automatically pop into my head when I write condolence notes (too often lately, it seems) and my attempts seem trite, almost empty.

In my head, I scroll through the usual — “thoughts and prayers” . . . “my condolences” . . . “so sorry for your loss,” etc.

It’s difficult enough to stare at a blank sympathy card and come up empty. It’s no better on an online guestbook, where I invariably begin looking at what others have written.

That’s in part a search for inspiration, but also so it doesn’t appear that I’m copying someone else.

This is all silly to worry about, of course. The people who really matter, the surviving family members, are hardly going to judge — or even remember — the specifics of what most people write.

I’ve been on the receiving end of sympathy cards a few times, and those events were such a blur, any written sentiments pale in comparison to remembered acts of kindness.

The grieving family is more likely to be thankful that friends took a few minutes to post something online or, more appropriately, send a handwritten card.

This morning, for my third attempt, I stopped worrying about the exact phrasing. An image of the mom at the boys’ basketball games came to me, so I just wrote something about that.

I hope my son’s former teammate finds comfort knowing that other parents remember his mom’s smiling face at so many games over the years.


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in cancer, communication, family, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When ‘thoughts and prayers’ don’t seem to be enough

  1. ksbeth says:

    it is always so hard, and you are exactly right, that the loved ones on the receiving end don’t judge and are just happy that you have been thinking about them. i’m glad you were able to go with your instincts in the end and i’m sure they were too, jim.


  2. Mary says:

    Anything you write is comforting Jimmy…

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Always difficult Jim. When I lost my father I couldn’t tell you one word anyone said. But I can remember who took the time to speak, visit, send a card. It’s the ‘who’ that we remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad you shared a fond memory you had of their mother/wife; and of course knowing that people are thinking of and praying for the family will be a source of comfort to them as well. Thanks for writing about this subject Jim.
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. markbialczak says:

    It is the fact that you thought enough to share their time of grief that counts, Jim. It’s not how you say it, but that you say it. Sorry for your boys’ friends’ loss of the mom you knew from youth basketball days.

    Liked by 1 person

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