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A Perfect Way to Show Someone You Care

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death at age 90. Although I miss him, I no longer feel sad every day. My feelings are more fondness and appreciation for him and the man he was.

Two days ago I received a card by U.S. mail from a friend named Cass. She wrote, “Lynn, my thoughts are with you and your family on the anniversary of your father’s death.” The printed message on the card said simply, “A beautiful soul is never forgotten.”

I love this card. It shows thoughtfulness, caring, attention to detail, and follow-through.

When I told Cass how much I appreciated receiving the card, she surprised me by asking, “Do you know where I got the idea to send the card?” I did not know. She responded, “From your book.”

I had to laugh when I realized Cass was, of course, correct. In my book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time there is a chapter titled “Convey Condolences to Connect With Others.” Cass was referring to this part of that chapter:

When you send a message of condolence, add the date to your calendar. That way you can remember the anniversary with your colleague who lost the family member or friend, if you choose to. You might send a brief note like one of these:

Dear Keina,

At this time of year I remember Sam’s passing and think of you. I have been thinking about what a generous, funny man he was and how much you must miss him.

Know that I am thinking of you during this time of remembering.

With warm wishes,



Dear Mr. Robson,

With the holidays upon us, I remember that Jeff died over Christmas break last year. I just want you to know I am thinking of you as you remember and grieve the loss of your loving son.



If you are thinking that it is untruthful to add a date to your calendar and then imply that you remembered it, think again. You remembered to add it to your calendar. Then when your calendar reminded you of the anniversary, you remembered the individuals involved.

Some people prefer to remember happy times rather than sad anniversaries. If you happen to know the birthday or wedding anniversary of someone who has died, you can acknowledge that date with the grieving family member or friend.

Sending this kind of message is a perfect way to strengthen a relationship.

And it is more than just a kind gesture. It can be an essential part of keeping in touch with a client, customer, or associate who has lost a loved one. In my book, I tell the story of a violin student whose husband died suddenly. Because of his death, she took a break from her violin lessons. When her teacher never followed up with a note or phone call to find out how the woman was feeling and whether she wanted to resume lessons, the student felt that the teacher did not care about her. She found another teacher. The relationship ended because the teacher did not reach out with a simple message.

How do you feel about the idea of sending follow-up condolence messages long after someone has died?


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “A Perfect Way to Show Someone You Care”

  • I love that message, Lynn. I think for some people the anniversary of the passing of a loved one is significant. My 90-year-old mother is one of those people. I tend not to remember the date. For me, I prefer not to hold onto those dates like I would a birthday.

    However, knowing that the date carries significance for my mom, I make sure I break away from my freelance work to take her to my dad’s grave on the anniversary of his death. As one friend put it, rituals are important for some.

    Wishing you many happy memory moments of your father, Lynn.

  • Dear Lynn,

    Thank you. I lost my mother 10 years ago this year and I know hard those early anniversaries are.

    Every so often, tears would just well up for no aparent reason. It might happen when I was eating or saw others eating a dish that she loved to cook, or when I caught a rare whiff of her favourite scent.

    I know, too, that eventually, the pain becomes less acute, and is ameliorated by remembered joy. I offer that thought to comfort you at this difficult time.

    wishing you the warmth of remembered love,


  • Very nice written…. Lynn,I love that message.I my best friend had lost his father in childhood and recently his mother passed away….Due to his narrow minded relatives I could not visit his house but I am always worried to support him as he is in great pain.

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