Writing Sympathy Notes

Phyllis Inspiration, Lifestyle 36 Comments

When Neal and I visited Biltmore House recently, we saw letters and notes the Vanderbilts had written years ago when the “house was in mourning.” We found these intriguing—each note or letter was written on black-banded stationery. I commented about that, and the curator pointed out that during a time of mourning, not only did the family dress in black, but everything changed for a year. Flowers in the house were darker, people limited their activities to events less celebratory, and black-banded stationery was the order of the day.

Several weeks later, I was in a meeting with our friends at Expressionery, reviewing the lovely new designs in social notes—quite a change from the 1800s. I told of my experience at Biltmore and asked whether they received orders for black-banded notes today. To my surprise, these are a staple for people. When I revealed that I didn’t have any, I was quickly told that some would be arriving for me soon! And sure enough, the box of black-banded note cards arrived with a note that said, “I hope you never have to use these.” Unfortunately, I have used them and appreciate that I have them.

In doing a little research, I found that in decades past, when sympathy acknowledgements from the family were sent to friends, the width of the black border signified the sender’s closeness to the deceased. Friends, however, would write sympathy notes on black-bordered note cards. Black ink was and is the order of the day.

Sending a sympathy note is something I prefer to do rather than sending a purchased card. Expressing memories or thoughts is endearing to families who are grieving. Write from your heart. In just a few sentences, you can make a difference.

How do you put a personal touch on important notes?

Comments 36

  1. My face always lights up when I see a hand written note in the mailbox. Most often they are from my dear Southern friend Frances. Taking the time to hand write is so special and endearing .

  2. Thank you for this post. In this e card, email, preprinted society that we live in it is so nice and refreshing to be reminded how important a hand written note is. I have always sent hand written notes, thank you, how are you, sympathy, congratulations. I have tried to instill this in our children but alas it has not taken flight in their generation. I cannot tell you how much a hand written note can take you back, take you the person who wrote, because I believe that our whole being is captured in our handwriting…. The newer generation will not have this connection to their loved ones, because a typed note does not have the personal touch that a hand written one does. I love all of your publications and how you remind us how to slow down and just enjoy life, its ups and downs, celebrating each one…. Coming to you from French Gulch California, sending blessings your way…… Curtis & Sherrie Chipley.

  3. I am in the habit of buying a lot of cards for different occasions. I feel like everyone likes
    to receive a card for special times in their lives. Regarding sympathy cards, I read each
    verse and try to pick the one I feel is the most appropriate, and I always write something
    that refers to the person that is no longer with us. I did not know of the black-banded
    note cards, but I will definitely be purchasing some. What a delicate way to express
    your own thoughts about the loss.

  4. I remember when my father passed away we ordered stationary with black borders. The front said The family of … We used those to share our appreciation of floral tributes, visits, food and the generosity of dear friends.

  5. Personal correspondence was always emphasized in our home. Mother was known among her friends for having the gift of selecting the perfect card and including the perfect personalization. Though the years I have attempted to carry on her legacy.
    Many years ago I discovered Alexandra Stoddard’s books on living a beautiful, gracious and joyous life. The Gift of a Letter is a lovely little book that will inspire even the hesitant to purchase special pens and paper to share their thoughts with loved ones.
    Unfortunately, I have had occasion to use my black-edged stationary all too often in recent years…

  6. There is nothing nicer than receiving a handwritten note… It shows that someone thought enough of you to sit down and actually think about what the person thought about your loved one… I’am intrigued by your blog Phyllis, because unfortunately there are people who just send a card, with no sentiment in it… Just going through the motion…. I always have and always will write a note and say something personal about their loved one…

    I still cherish handwritten notes from people who wrote such nice things about my Mom and Dad when they passed on… They touched my heart!

    1. I think expressing feelings is difficult for people and that is why cards are a good thing. There are some lovely cards with beautiful verses that may express what they cant.
      But I love notes!!!

  7. A handwritten note is always a cherished treasure to me. One written during the lose of a loved one is priceless and valued forever.

  8. We had stationery with a black line around the edge of the paper and the same for the envelopes.
    It is touching that these messages have been kept but I know I could never read them again. It is healing when we write them, but I am usually so choked with emotion I can barely write anything.

  9. Oh, how I wish I had this stationery now as I write thank you notes to the many friends and family members who have been so generous in their sentiments since the recent passing of my husband.
    I love beautiful stationery and am fortunate to have had some on hand, but also resorted to the standard note cards made available. I’m going to order some of these to keep on hand for future use and maybe even some for the next friend who finds herself in this same situation.

  10. Comments written regarding the deceased can be so healing. When my mother passed many years ago I opened a handwritten note from a former teacher of mine telling of a time in grade school I embarrassed my mother. Her note and the thought of mother’s embarrassment made me laugh and cry at the same time. Love you blog.

  11. When my dear mother passed away, I took the guest book from the memorial service, and hand wrote each person who had signed the book, a note of how they were special to my mother-what they had meant to her either through working with them or church, or in what ever manner in which she knew them through the years. I added in each note, how much it meant to me that they had honored my mother by coming to her memorial service. Somehow in writing all those notes, and remembering how my mother was connected to each of those people, helped in my deep grief. I agree, in that handwritten notes of any kind, are always the best way to go.

  12. This is a lovely post. I send many sympathy cards and add personal notes . I have never heard about these note cards but think they would be so appropriate during these times so I too will be purchasing them. The Biltmore gives us so many life lessons and I love their family history. Thanks

  13. I appreciate the reminder about appropriate stationery in place of cards. I have kept them all from my parents and husband’s passing.Now I have several occasions to use the same and on occasion the grey ink is so mean I ful. Thank you.

  14. While these are very nice, whether it’s in a tacky card, on frilly flowery stationery or on serious black-bordered stock, what matters are the words. I just lost both my parents within weeks of each other and appreciated most of all the stories people passed on about them.

  15. Lovely Phyllis. I have had three deaths to deal with this week. I will go in search of these as well. I so enjoy your post.

  16. This is such a timely post for me, Phyllis, as my mother recently passed. One just doesn’t realize how important every note, every card, every act of kindness is until you are grieving yourself. I have read every card and note, word for word and have drawn such comfort from them. Traditions are so important. There are important reasons for our traditions. and I am thankful that some of us are working to keep them alive. Thank you Phyllis!

  17. I try to include a fond memory of the deceased if I knew them well enough. If not, then a simple heartfelt message is my choice. It’s about letting them know they are not alone in their grief and that we all face it from time to time.

    As for other notes I prefer to hand write something personal if at all possible rather than just signing a card with my name. I use the blue stationery I bought many years ago with my initials embossed on top. It was a special sale and I received more that I realized I would, but it’s simple and lovely and works for many occasions.

  18. Thank you for this information. I always send a personal note, but usually on a purchased card or church one for Masses to be said if appropriate.

    I will also send for the notecards.

  19. Often people are worried about what they write on a sympathy note. But anything from the heart is cherished, I still have most of the “real” notes {versus just a signed card} written after we lost Mom. I love what Kay wrote about the Japanese writing in grey ink because it’s black watered down with tears. Thank you for this, will go in search of black banded notes!

  20. Strange question…why would they have on display notes they wrote? Did people send them back? Sorry, just seemed odd and I was curious. I love these old traditions and it saddens me to see them fading. Thanks for keeping them out there!

    1. The curators at Biltmore have a vast collection of correspondence written to family members or friends. Many were returned to the house by family members in recent generations.

  21. I recently learned that in Japan they use gray ink for mourning notes. The gray symbolizes black ink that is watered down by tears. I think that is lovely.

  22. This was such an interesting and helpful post. Thank you. I think I will start using a black-banded note card as well when I send a sympathy note.

  23. Every card or note is deeply appreciated when you lose a loved one. I still have those sent to me after my parents passed away several years ago. Don’t hesitate to send your thoughts and prayers to those who are grieving…it means more than you realize.

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