My husband, Dan, died on April 26th, and his funeral was held on May 4th. Since then I’ve been tackling the task of writing thank you cards to the people who gave a gift in my husband’s memory or helped us in some way with the funeral. Because there were about 500 people at the funeral, this is a huge undertaking. I thought I would share some thoughts about writing thank you cards after a funeral, as well as a few tips.
How long do I have to send my Thank You cards?
Etiquette experts say that thank you notes should be sent within 2-3 weeks of the funeral.  It’s interesting to note that the timeline for thank yous after a wedding is far more lenient. “It’s a widespread rule of thumb that couples have at least a year after their big day to send their wedding thank you notes. However, some etiquette advice says that sending a thank you note later than three months post-wedding is simply inexcusable.”
The reality is that getting your thank you cards sent in a timely manner can feel like an impossible, task after a loved one’s funeral, This deadline is especially overwhelming if you have just lost your spouse. You have a million and one things that you are trying to figure out as you learn to live as one instead of two. If you have children living at home, you are juggling even more. Still, there are some surprisingly good reasons for writing those thank you cards now, as well as some ways to make the process less of a burden.
Since publishing this post I have had many people reach out to me and say that thank you cards after a funeral are unnecessary. Some people make a note in the funeral bulletin letting guests know that they are not planning to send thank you cards, but that they wish to convey their gratitude. This is something I had not heard of, but I think it’s a great idea. Until you walk through this, it’s difficult to know what to expect, but hopefully, this will give you a few ideas should you ever lose someone you love or love someone who has.
Thank you cards show your appreciation
Losing a loved one is likely the worst thing you will ever go through in your life. If it wasn’t for the supportive people in my life, during this time, I would have found everything unbearable. Thankfully, I felt incredibly blessed by the people who reached out to me, and who continue to do so during this time of mourning. It’s important to share your gratitude for these acts of kindness.
Often, while caring for someone who is terminally ill, and later in our grief, it can be difficult to adequately show our appreciation. A thank you card is one way of saying that their care for us in our time of need didn’t go unnoticed.
Writing Thank you cards can be part of your healing process
They are an opportunity to share memories. My sister-in-law helped me write thank you cards. We sat at my kitchen table several times reading cards and remembering the people and events that were affected by my husband’s life and death. This was often accompanied by laughter and tears, both of which are essential when mourning such a deep loss. This can facilitate part of the healing process, especially if you experienced any trauma toward the end of your loved one’s life. Remembering better times, before the illness, can help erase those painful memories.
Thank You cards are also a wonderful way to remember how blessed you are. They will remind that you are not alone in this. There are people who care and who are grieving with you. They may not have the depth of the loss you do, but they do feel it and are concerned about how you will do as you move through life without your loved one.
There are a few things that make the process difficult.
Most thank you cards and memorials brought to the funeral don’t have addresses on them. Some people will include their address, either on a check or on the envelope or card when giving a memorial gift in the form of cash. It greatly simplifies the process of writing cards.
The guest book is another place to look for addresses, but often, there isn’t enough room for their full address, so guests just write the name of the city in which they live. Once one guest does this, many will follow suit (especially if they are trying to move a lengthy line along).
I found myself turning to online sources for addresses for about half of the thank you cards I sent. It’s time-consuming to weed through the various possible addresses you will find this way. I dread the number that will be marked “returned to sender” because I chose to use the wrong address.
Some (very organized) people recommend entering the addresses from the guest book into an excel spreadsheet and then alphabetizing the list. That way, the addresses are easy to find. You can also mark each address when the card is sent, to give you some reassurance that you’ve sent it. I’m not that organized.
For Large Funerals
Depending on how large the funeral was, writing thank yous can be quite time-consuming. It will also be a reminder of how many people in your life care for you, your family, and who were affected by your loved one’s life. With so many cards to write, it will be especially important to enlist the help of another family member or friend to help. This will also make the emotional side of writing thank you cards easier to handle. Besides, it is far more helpful to share your feelings with someone else as you write the cards.
Notes in your Thank You cards don’t have to be lengthy.
Certainly, there will be some people who have really gone the extra mile. You will want to write a specific message about this. Because you likely have many cards to write, you can keep it brief. And at this time, it can be difficult to think as clearly as you usually do. So you have a measure of grace when it comes to writing your thank you cards.
Remember people who have done something.
It can be difficult to recall everyone who played a role in the funeral of your loved one. If someone forgot to give you a card, they could get forgotten, as well. Writing a list of people to thank helps. Some people may get 2 thank you cards on accident (especially if multiple people are helping you write them). That’s okay. They will likely feel extra appreciated.
Keep a list of people who would like to help somehow in the future
Often, after the funeral, people will mention that they would like to get together for coffee or help you out in some way. It’s really easy to forget these thoughtful offers. Make a list, either on your phone or somewhere else that you will see it. Write down the “who” and the “what.” Then, when life settles down, you can call that cousin about going out to lunch or the neighbor who offered to clean your gutters.
Share cards received with other family members
If you have a large family like mine, you will receive cards from many different circles of friends. I was so moved by the things that people wrote in their cards. Often they were from people I had only met a couple of times, and some were from people I had only heard of, but never met. Sharing these cards allows all family members to read these kind sentiments. They are so encouraging! For this reason, I would also save the cards (for at least your period of mourning) so that you can re-read them in the future.
Writing thank you cards can be a chore, but it can also be rewarding for you and their recipients.
For all of my friends who are waiting for their thank you card, I am nearly done and will have them in the mail within the next couple of day.
What Are Your Thoughts?
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker
 “The Rules of Writing Thank You Cards after a Funeral.” Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, foxandweeks.com/the-rules-of-writing-thank-you-cards-after-a-funeral/.
 Bishop, Jessica. “The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Thank You Notes.” The Spruce, The Spruce, 6 Feb. 2019, www.thespruce.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-wedding-thank-you-notes-4050109.