"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
October 08, 2015
Letters of Condolence
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


A friend of my late mother's has just died. The deceased is also my husband’s sister’s mother-in-law and my mother-in-law's close friend.  My husband’s family is planning a group floral tribute, but I would like to honor my late mother’s friendship with the deceased by sending flowers on her behalf from my family only.

Is this appropriate or should I participate in the group tribute?


It took me a minute to map it out, but it appears that your late mother, your mother-in-law, and this newly deceased lady were all of an age, and were connected not only by friendship, but by the marriages of their children. It seems, therefore, that these three women knew each other and were closely connected for a long time.

Whether they were a trio of kindred spirits or just three long-time acquaintances, I’m sure it has struck your mother-in-law that she has lost two of her fellow-travelers in life. She is also mourning the loss of a close friend. Your sister-in-law is mourning the loss of her mother-in-law and is likely comforting her husband and children in the loss of their mother and grandmother.

In other words, it appears that your mother-in-law and sister-in-law were closer to this deceased lady, even though you also had a long-time connection to her through your mother. So, in deciding whether to participate in the group floral tribute, I suggest that you consider their feelings before your own.

For example, if your mother-in-law has her heart set on flowers that require your participation to purchase, you might forgo a separate arrangement in order to participate in her floral tribute.

And if you know your sister-in-law will be offended if you don’t participate, you might appease her on account of her bereavement. Putting the needs of others before your own on the occasion of her friend’s death would be a magnificent tribute to your mother.

However, assuming your mother-in-law and sister-in-law are reasonable adults, a conflict over flowers seems unlikely. There is no rule that requires extended families to send only one arrangement. If the family is accepting flowers (that is, if they have not requested donations to a particular cause in lieu of flowers — and funerals are the only time you can publicly request donations instead of gifts), you and your extended family can contribute as many arrangements as you wish.

I am also assuming, of course, that you are a reasonable adult and are not trying to upstage your mother-in-law’s floral tribute with a grander floral tribute (or her donation with a larger donation). Nor are you sending your own flowers to emphasize that you are separate from (and better than) the rest of your husband’s family, or that you were more intimately connected to the deceased than they.

None of those motives would be nice.

It would be easiest, perhaps, to participate in the group arrangement and to also send a separate arrangement to honor this lady’s friendship with your late mother. But if your budget will not allow that, you can decline to participate by saying something like, “Oh, what a lovely idea. We have actually already sent an arrangement in memory of Julia’s friendship with my mom.”

You will also, naturally, attend the funeral and visitation.

Sending flowers and attending the services for this lady are fitting tributes to her and to your late mother. I would also like to suggest one more, a more personal way to honor their friendship: a letter of condolence.

Letters of condolence are written to express your sympathy to the bereaved and to share your memories of the deceased. You should use blank stationery rather than a pre-printed card, and your tone should be warm and poignant.

You should say that you are sorry for their loss. The main body of your letter should share a happy anecdote about the deceased, lessons you learned from her good example, gratitude for your association with her, kind words your mother spoke of her, service she gave to your family and other positive memories. You might include a snapshot of her and your mother.

Your letter need not pretend the deceased was perfect; the anecdotes and sentiments you share should be sincere and not a stretch. But it should convey that this lady will be missed and remembered, and that her life touched yours for good.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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