Writing Thank-You Notes After Stillbirth
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.
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.
Published January 26, 2010. Last updated June 28, 2018.