It’s never too late to offer your condolences

It’s never too late to offer your condolences



Fred R. Conrad/The NY Times

A sympathy note for the family of Letitia Baldrige

I was inspired to create my website, after a co-worker’s daughter died. You can say we were friends, but not the kind of friend you meet socially and decide to pursue because you had so much in common. He was a co-worker friend – we had daily interaction, knew the details of each other’s lives and became friends out of circumstance.

I never met his daughter, and I’m not sure I met his wife before the funeral, but I felt like I knew them. His daughter Amanda was 23 years old and it shook me when I heard the news of her death. Was it okay to call? How could I help? Would it feel like an intrusion if a work friend reached out?

I couldn’t escape my ignorance on the topic – for months after she died I felt like running away every time he mentioned her name. I didn’t know what to do when he talked about her. Was I saying the right thing?

The next few months I looked for answers to these questions, but resources for the people supporting the grieving were slim. I was surprised when I read the passage of one book suggesting unless a friend had experienced a similar loss, they could not possibly support them – but at the time, nobody offered advice for the friends. I decided to take what I learned and put it on the internet – this is how began.

I spent the next five years outlining and developing a website where people could find the information I was looking for when Amanda died and also provide information on topics I found fascinating and wondered why more people didn’t know about. Along the way, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing so many truly inspiring people – one of them was Letitia Baldrige.

Letitia Baldrige was the White House Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy (among many other highly honored positions). She aided the First Lady after her husband’s assassination and I wanted to talk to her about etiquette when a co-worker experiences loss.

When I called her for the interview, she was warm, kind and told me, she had good and bad days and you never could tell which one it was going to be ahead of time. She told me she was not at her best and asked if I could call her back in the evening. Even when she wasn’t at her best, she was amazing!

When I called her back, she was lovely – she was open, comforting, wise and witty. Below is the advice she offered for those who are grieving and the friends who support them:

If you are supporting others who are grieving:

Be prepared to move into action

  • Come forward with a plan
  • Offer to help with arrangements
  • Be specific about how you may help (“let me do this”)

If you are experiencing loss:

  • Friends can give you life when you have a loss – be open to their kindness
  • Accept the help of others when they offer their assistance
  • Never stop being the recipients to the love and help of friends and family

Letitia Baldrige died on Monday, October 29, 2012 – the same night Hurricane Sandy came to town. With the outage we also lost access to the news, cell towers and Internet. When I saw her NY Times Obituary, I was sad to hear the news, honored to have had the opportunity to learn from her and embarrassed I didn’t know sooner.

More than 2 months have passed and I wondered if it was too late to acknowledge her death? My lack of response did not diminish the level of importance I placed on it – to the contrary – this was so important, I felt it needed my full attention.

We all have long to do lists and maybe it’s been a while since someone you know lost a loved one. You may feel it’s too late to send a sympathy note because too much time passed, but I encourage you to write one no matter how long it’s been. The family may need a little boost after the initial influx of condolences and will welcome your kind words, the acknowledgement of their life and how they inspired you.

In my interview with Letitia Baldrige, I asked the questions I wanted to know the answers to when Amanda died. Should you reach out in a different way to a co-worker than you would a close friend or family member? Were you crossing a line? When she gave me her answer, I promised I would quote her and her words live on my website today, hopefully inspiring others.

Her one, simple statement, answered all of my questions:

“If you are a loving person, you offer help whenever there is a need.”