Grief lies between the light and the dark. 

Grieving is especially hard during the holiday season. Seeing sparkly tinsel, shiny gold and silver ornaments, or even light-adorned trees takes significant effort and may even be impossible. For many, Christmas cards hold a unique challenge. The first year stings when cards arrive addressed to one person, without “and family,” or even include the deceased.

For me, sending Christmas cards has always been a special tradition, but as I grow older, I am apt to be faced with writing Christmas cards to the bereaved or terminally ill and grieving. So I spread my cards on the table with my address book, pen, envelope stickers, and stamps. Some cards have traditional New England winter scenes. Others may be adorned with a dancing Snoopy or smiling snowman, cards reminding us of the reason for the season with angels, and scenes of the manger with Joeseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus.

One year I had the flu and had no energy to send Christmas cards. I had already bought my cards, but as I stared at them in their boxes, I decided to pack them away for the following year. No one would notice anyway.

The following summer, I attended a dear friend’s funeral. When I approached his spouse, she took my hand and said, “Norm missed your Christmas card last year. He always looked forward to going to the mailbox to see if it had arrived.”  I felt terrible but explained I was sick and didn’t have the heart or energy to send cards. So how about that? People do appreciate our efforts.

That Christmas, I was sure to send Norm’s wife a card.

Sending cards to the grieving is complicated. Every year, I face the inevitable and sit in silence, wondering what to write to someone who has lost a loved one. Of course, I shouldn’t write “Have a Happy Christmas” or “Joyful Seasons Greetings to You and Yours.” There are occasions, however, when I write such a card only to learn later the recipient has passed. Sometimes, we are less informed than we think. So I sit and wiggle, tap my pen on the table, get up and walk around, and maybe make a cup of tea as I search for inspiration.

Over the years, I’ve asked the bereaved for their thoughts on receiving Christmas cards and what sentiments are comforting. These suggestions have helped me, and I hope they help you, too.

Keep it simple.

  • Say something loving – “I’m thinking of you during this difficult time,” “Sending love and hugs,” “I hope you find peace during this holiday season.” “I wish you the needed support to get through this holiday season.”
  • Include an offer to shovel snow, shop, deliver a meal, or visit. Ask what would be welcomed.
  • Deliver ice cream in person with a card or instead of a card. I hear this one frequently. When someone did that for me, it was surprisingly comforting.

You can’t go wrong when you write from the heart.