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Writing Thank-You Notes After Stillbirth

Jan26

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Two weeks ago and in my 37th week of pregnancy, I gave birth to my stillborn son. There were no medical problems that we know of – his heart just stopped one day. It has been a horrible two weeks, but one bright spot has been the support from our community of family, friends and coworkers. They have sent cards, emails, casseroles, and flowers, cared for my older child, shoveled my driveway – they have been phenomenal.
My question (or at least the one that I hope someone can answer) is about thank you notes. Unlike wedding showers and birthday parties, I’m not feeling eager to write effusive notes to everyone who has reached out to us. I don’t really want to talk about it, and I have no idea what to say. Do you know what the etiquette is for this situation? How little can I get away with? What are they supposed to say? I don’t want to be rude, but social graces are not really the first thing on my mind right now.
-a mom

I am so terribly sorry. So. Terribly, enormously sorry. I…just…gah…awkward hug through laptop screen not finding right words now ever. Sorry.
Whew, okay. Let’s push up our sleeves and move on to the topic at hand: thank you notes after a stillbirth. Are you obligated to send them? No. Not really. I cannot imagine ANYONE ANYWHERE who would possibly judge you or feel slighted if they did not receive a handwritten note. Particularly the sort of people you are describing — the ones who spring into action with food and snow shovels and flowers instead of withdrawing in horror because they just don’t know what to do.
That said, plenty of people do send thank-you notes after a death or funeral. Some people find it to be therapeutic — a written reminder that your son touched lives, even after his ended, and that he was loved. Some people enjoy the repetitive “busy-work” aspect to writing notes and find it helps take their mind elsewhere for an hour or so. Beyond those reasons, friends who send gifts or flowers may be merely concerned that they were delivered properly, and sending a short note might be easier for you than a phone call, where you may actually end up being asked to “talk about it.”
A bereavement thank-you note can be very short, very simple. Sometimes funeral homes will supply pre-printed ones for funeral attendees, and it is perfectly acceptable to send these out without fussing over personalized notes on the back or inside flap. I don’t think anyone would be particularly scandalized if you thanked them via email (though like the phone, the informal nature of email might lead to more in-depth conversations and back-and-forth than you’re up to right now). But even if you are up to NOTHING right now, or six months from now: your friends and family will understand. And anyone who doesn’t is welcome to come over here and walk into my fist. RAWR.
Some examples, if you do choose to send notes to some people. (And I would narrow down the list to people who sent Things or did Things, like gifts, flowers, food, babysitting, etc. You do not need to respond to every sympathy card or email with a written thank-you note.)
A general, catch-all kind of note can be as simple as the following: Thank you for your thoughtfulness/kindness/understanding. Your generosity/support/concern during this difficult time is greatly appreciated. Pretty much all of those words are interchangeable, to be included or omitted as you see fit.
For gifts, such as flowers or an “in lieu of” donation: Thank you so much for the beautiful flowers/generous donation. Your generosity/thoughtfulness during this difficult time is greatly appreciated. If you’re up for it, you can include something about the flowers or donation being in honor of your son, using his name. This is entirely optional and up to you.
For food, just thank them for the act of giving it. You don’t have to go on and on about how delicious is was or when you ate it blah blah blah: Thank you for taking the time to bring the [name of food] over to the house and for caring about all of us during our grief.
For help, like babysitting, shoveling driveways, running errands, thank them specifically for the action and the generosity/caring behind the action: Thank you so much for [specific help provided]. Words cannot express how helpful and comforting your love and support have been during this difficult time.
Finally: you do not have to do this alone. You can ask for help from friends and family members. You write a couple quick sentences while your friend keeps you company, then she stuffs and addresses the envelopes. And it is perfectly acceptable for a close relative to write bereavement cards on your behalf: On behalf of my sister “a mom,” I am writing to thank you for the beautiful flowers/donation/what-have-you. Your thoughtfulness during this difficult time for our family is greatly appreciated.
And if I may include my own vaguely formal-sounding language here: I truly do wish for healing, happiness and hope for you, as you cope with such a profound, painful loss. For realz.


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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26 Responses to “Writing Thank-You Notes After Stillbirth”

  1. ECB Jan 27 at 1:51 am Reply Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss. Two and half years ago, we lost our baby at 23w. I was barely functioning at the time. When I said something about T-notes, my mother (who drilled the importance of them into me growing up.) said “No body is expecting them. DO NOT WORRY about that!” It is so much more important that you focus on grieving and taking care of yourself and your husband. At two weeks out, the grief is just beginning – please be gentle with yourself.
    I think my aunt checked with my dad to make sure we got the flowers she sent but other then that no has ever said “Where’s my thank you note?”
    The website glowinthewoods.com is an excellent source for baby loss parents.

  2. Muirnait Jan 27 at 4:25 am Reply Reply

    Amy, your advice sounds just right.
    To the author of the question, I am so sorry for your loss, and also thankful that you have a loving community and that you are gracious enough to be thankful for them and concerned to the point of asking Amy about what to do.

  3. Jana Jan 27 at 6:39 am Reply Reply

    To “a mom”–I am so enormously sorry. “I’m sorry” is completely inadequate to convey my hurt for you, and I do hope and pray that you find peace and comfort. It sounds like you have wonderful community surrounding you.
    Amy, your specific examples are perfect. I love that you gave her the words to use. Sometimes, in the midst of grief, we can’t even string the right words together, and yours are spot on. I especially like the idea of asking someone to write the notes on her behalf if she’s just not up to it.

  4. Boulder Jan 27 at 7:10 am Reply Reply

    I can’t agree more with Amy. You don’t have to do anything. If you feel like it might help you to acknowledge certain kindnesses exteneded to you, then the awesome start Amy’s given here are more than adequate, and more than people will be expecting.
    I know that when I’ve helped others during times like these, I’ve dont it with no expectation of a thank you, mostly because I’m doing it because I just don’t know how to help other than by offering an ear, a casserole, or a hug.
    When i’ve had my miscarriages, which I’m not stating are in the league of what you’ve been through, I know that just getting up & getting through a day could be tough, and the thought of writing a note because I fetl obligated would have thrown me over the edge. There were a few emails, though, that were cathartic to send. If you feel the notes will do that for you then by all means write them. People will be touched that in your grief and healing you cared enough about their contribution to take the time, but they will not be expecting it.
    I’m so sorry for your loss, a mom, and hope that you find peace in your healing.
    Shout out to Amy for giving such simple and amendable ideas as places to start, because sometimes that is the hardest part, the idea of what to write, and where to start.

  5. Therese Jan 27 at 9:17 am Reply Reply

    Wow, such a tough situation. My thoughts and prayers to you and your family during this challenging time. I have to say that Amy’s advice (as always) is really good. Although I don’t share in your personal experience, my father passed away a few short weeks before my son was born this Spring and I have had the dreaded thank you note issue. I’ll just echo what Amy said that you do NOT have to do anything if you’re not ready. If you’re ready later, then do it later. If you’re never ready to write thank you notes, then I think everyone will understand. I will also echo what Amy said that if you really want to do it, get help. My mother really wanted to write thank you notes after my father died but it was really tough for her to handle emotionally. My sister and I ended up managing the process with participation from my Mom just like Amy described. I wrote the notes with “on behalf of my mother and our family…” and my sister addressed, stamped… My mom was there, providing input but she didn’t have to do it all. She also had the relief that the “chore” was done and could let that go. I will close with saying that it was hard writing the notes but much easier (again as Amy pointed out) for our family than e-mail, phone, or face-to-face conversations. Almost 10 months later and those are still hard…
    I’m so sorry for your loss and admire your ability to continue to think of others!

  6. HereWeGoAJen Jan 27 at 10:44 am Reply Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss and I will be thinking about you and your family.

  7. Sadie Jan 27 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    Dear A Mom:
    I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the heartbreak. And if you were my friend to whom I had given food or driveway shoveling, I would not expect a thank you. If you feel it would be overwhelming, I’m sure people will understand.

  8. Erin Jan 27 at 12:03 pm Reply Reply

    I am SO sorry. Oh My God, so freaking sorry. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
    As for the thank you notes — don’t do them if you don’t want to. My Mother died suddenly and tragically last February. We received many donations to her memorial fund for our Temple building fund. The Temple sent notes. My sister and I fully intended to, going so far as to write and print a message to go in each note with just a short, hand written note to go with each one. I had a list of about 100. A few months ago, I opened up a box of things from the funeral and days after that I had not been able to deal with. I found them — Thank you notes, STAMPS, typed and printed inserts, lists of memorial contributions, meals, babysitters, etc. I completely lost it. Broke down. Sobbed. I felt so inadequate, and so overwhelmed. It had been 9 months. I could not do it. My good friend told m — Don’t. No one cares, and even if they do, you have to take care of yourself right now. Best advice ever. I still have not thrown it all away, but I will, soon. I am not going to write the notes. I can’t do it. I am starting to feel ok about that decision, slowly.
    Again, peace to you and your family at this terrible time. Don’t feel compelled to do anything but take care of yourself and your family right now.
    Erin

  9. lisa Jan 27 at 12:14 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so sorry for your lost. I cannot beging to imagine what you are going through. Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts.

  10. Bethany Jan 27 at 12:14 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so sorry. You have my prayers and sympathies.

  11. cagey Jan 27 at 12:20 pm Reply Reply

    I am really, truly sorry for the reader’s loss.
    I think Amy’s advice is spot on. If I had given help/assistance/food/something directly to someone in person, I certainly would not expect a thank you card. Particularly, since I had seen the person and was thanked directly. No need for an extra card.
    However, if I am long-distance and have sent something through the mail, I would like to know that it was received simply to ensure the shipment actually arrived (flowers, gift cards, care packages, etc.). A very quick “thank you” even via email/text/voicemail would be enough just so that I know it came properly. I would not expect anything formal, wordy or flowery.
    It is equally probable that anyone who loves the reader enough to send something thoughtful would also realize that a formal card should not be expected.

  12. Erin Jan 27 at 12:44 pm Reply Reply

    There are no words to express how sad this really is. A good friend of mine delivered her daughter stillborn just before Christmas. One thought I had was when someone asks you “What can we do for you?” you can say, “Actually, could you help with the thank you notes?” I agree, no one is expecting one. At all. People just want you to feel their love and support and don’t expect anything back, but if you want to send them I think you would be fine asking a close friend or relative to help you/do them for you.

  13. gizella Jan 27 at 1:14 pm Reply Reply

    I am so sorry…oh honey! Can your husband help? If you really feel compelled, which you don’t have to at all, maybe even writing something like “I don’t have many words right now, but thank you for your kindness.” This is one of the situations where you are totally and completely allowed to just forget about this social grace. do it

  14. Sharon Jan 27 at 1:41 pm Reply Reply

    I have been where you are, “a mom”. This past September we lost our daughter at almost 32 weeks without any warning or discernable problem. Like you we were the recipients of an enormous outpouring of support and love from close friends, family, colleagues and a few beautiful individuals that we would never have expected to hear from. We were touched and grateful and at a loss for how to repond to these wonderful people. About 4 weeks after Ariel died, we ordered some bereavement notes with a simple statement on the front (“We gratefully acknowledge your kind expression of sympathy” or something like that, with our names printed beneath).
    Here’s what I did with them: I sent them to people who had send flowers or food, or had sent contributions to March of Dimes in our daughter’s memory. For the most part I did not sent them to those who had sent a card or visited, but I made an exception for those mentioned above who, although not very close to us, went out of their way to send a comforting letter. I wrote something very simple on the inside of the card, like “We are touched by your generous contribution to MOD” or “Your words have brought us much comfort during this difficult time.”
    Here is what my husband did with them: Nothing. Many of his friends and work colleagues sent food and contributions. But he simply could not bring himself to look at those little cards and try to write something.
    In the end, you must do what feels right to you. NO ONE will judge you for writing/not writing notes. Everyone either knows or can imagine how difficult this has been for you and frankly, can’t imagine how you are even getting out of bed right now. It has been such a short time since your loss. You can just not think about this at all for awhile and deal with it, or not, later. You can decide three months from now that you want to send a note to one person, or you can do nothing at all. You are the only one who knows what will help you get through this AWFUL AWFUL event and that is what you should do.
    I am so, so very sorry for your loss and I truly hope that you continue to find comfort in those around you, particularly your older child – I know that mine has saved my sanity and she continues to do so each and every day.
    This stranger/sister in sorrow is sending you love and strength through the ether.

  15. kelly Jan 27 at 1:53 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. Warm thoughts to you and your family.
    I’ll add my voice to the chorus: despite being a stickler for thank-you notes when appropriate, I absolutely would not expect one in this situation. If it feels right, then I think Amy has provided some wonderful templates, but if it doesn’t feel right, let it go. People will understand.

  16. AL Jan 27 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss and wish you and your family much strength as you get through this very painful time. We lost a daughter at 35 weeks – also for no known reason – so I understand.
    It is not necessary for you to write any thank you notes. I think I might have called a couple of people who I wasn’t ‘scared’ to talk to and I sent a note to my office thanking everyone for their support and kindness, but that was it.
    Please take good care – physically and emotionally. Be kind to yourself. It will help you to heal. Big hugs.

  17. Catherine Jan 27 at 2:18 pm Reply Reply

    I am so, so sorry for your loss. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  18. Cincy Jan 27 at 2:37 pm Reply Reply

    Excellent advice, Amy. I’m really wondering if there is anything you can’t do, because you show tremendous insight for someone who has never been through this. To ‘A Mom’ –I’m so sorry about your baby. I have been through it myself, (19 years ago, last week) and while it does get easier over time, the pain stays forever. I wish the internet had been around when my son died. I also hope that all these great people around you continue to help. That’s one of the hardest parts; people not understanding and wishing you would get over it already. Sorry, off topic, but obviously fresh in my mind. Do the best you can do and that is all anyone should expect of you.

  19. Belle Jan 27 at 2:47 pm Reply Reply

    I have tears in my eyes reading this. You’ve been though enough. If thank you cards aren’t something you are “up for,” by all means, don’t write them. Friends and family will totally understand. I wouldn’t expect a thank you note. I’m sorry for your loss.

  20. Valorie Jan 27 at 11:59 pm Reply Reply

    I, like so many others,am very, very sorry. I only wanted to add to what Erin and Amy suggested about having others help: It might be a way to let others who are especially close to you, or who might be grieving themselves, to feel as though they were able DO something, to offer you comfort, however slight. That is really all that anyone, even us strangers, want to be able to do for you. No thanks needed. If a grandma-pa, aunt,uncle, etc., could have the opportunity to help, and if it is something you are willing/able to let them do for you, then by all means give them that gift. Otherwise, Sharon said it best: in the end, you must do what feels right to you.

  21. Jolie Jan 28 at 4:58 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so hugely sorry and sad for your loss. Our (also perfectly healthy) firstborn died during his birth at 37w nearly 6 years ago. It’s a horrid, wretched and awful experience, and my heart aches for you and your family. If you do anything in relation to thank you cards, do what you feel comfortable with, *not* what you feel obligated to do. If it had been your friend’s baby dying, would you feel slighted for not receiving a note about the casserole and flowers? (I ended up sending thank yous, but it was probably 2-3 months after the fact).
    And finally, here’s something a gorgeous woman told me once: the pain and awfulness and loss of this tragedy will always be there, but your life does get bigger around it. You will get there. It used to drive me spare when people went on about time healing so I’ll spare you that, but know that – as much as I wish you didn’t belong to this awful *club* – it will be okay, one day. Just give yourself lots of love, and be kind and gentle with yourself. All the best.

  22. jen from boston Jan 29 at 4:39 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this, I lost my son at 26w last April and have been feeling pretty guilty for not writing a single the notes given what a big life event it was and how people stepped up and were there for is.
    I gave a blanket “thank you to all for your thoughts and prayers- we feel very loved” on my facebook page, as many people left kind, heartfelt words there. But that was all I could really muster. For me, writing a note after note would have been picking at the wound. Also, I was very tired.

  23. jen from boston Jan 29 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    It also goes without saying, to “A Mom” I am so very sorry for your loss. I really feel your pain and you do what YOU need to do to take care of yourself. It sounds like you have a great support system to do just that.

  24. Catherine S Jan 29 at 8:45 pm Reply Reply

    Like others, I cannot imagine your pain right now. Wanted to say I would NEVER expect a thank you note or anything else from a friend who has experienced a loss like yours.

  25. JCF Feb 02 at 7:00 pm Reply Reply

    I am so, so sorry for your loss. If I had sent something to a friend in your shoes, I would never, ever expect a thank you note and would be shocked if one ever arrived.
    My younger brother committed suicide a couple of years ago at age 21, and although my mom sent thank you notes, I never did. I just couldn’t handle it. I think my mom did it because she wanted to, not because she felt anyone would judge her for not doing so. In a situation like yours, you need to do what will help you cope the most.

  26. Macy Jun 07 at 2:26 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for asking this question – I sat here on google trying to find the right words to write thank you notes after the loss of our daughter at 18weeks. NO ONE should ever go this the loss of a child! Also thank you to the other posters who have included helpful websites – for me I had NO IDEA there was so much out there for Angel Moms. I will be praying for our healing through this lifelong journey. 

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