An Unfortunate Letter

Letters of sympathy are so hard to write. I try to avoid the usual phrases and cliches and compose words relevant to the deceased. Sometimes I remember an event or a characteristic, a hobby or an interest. I should be too embarrassed to mention this particular condolence letter but strangely for a sympathy letter, it did have a funny side.

My second cousin Flo had a younger brother called Ted. They were teenagers when I was a little kid so we didn’t have much in common. However, we all lived in the same small town and saw each other regularly. One day many moons later when I was an adult, I was shocked to receive an email from Flo’s husband telling me that Ted had died. Since I didn’t know he had been ill, I was upset to read the news. I chose a card from my collection and sat down to write to Ted’s wife and family. I thought about his wide grin, quiet voice, good nature and kindness and composed a draft. When I was satisfied with the result, I copied it out on good paper and mailed the letter with the card.

I was surprised to hear from Flo a few days later. She sounded in very good spirits for someone who had just lost a beloved brother. She chuckled as she gave me the reason for her phone call. It was only then that I suddenly remembered her husband also had a brother called Ted and he’d been diagnosed with cancer a few months earlier. Yes, I had mixed up the dead and living brothers.

Mortified, I called the living Ted. He laughed as he told me about receiving my letter. He’d picked it up from his mail box and curious, opened it on the front path before going into the house. He was surprised to discover he was dead but liked the things I had mentioned. I managed to laugh about the mistake before we ended the call. Later, I sent an email to Flo’s husband expressing my condolences for the loss of his brother. I had met his Ted only once.

The story does not end there. About year later, I received another email from Flo’s husband. The surviving Ted had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. I was saddened by the news and in a dilemma over my letter of sympathy. The first one had contained the most memorable things about Ted. What should I say this time? After a lot of head scratching and screwed up pieces of paper I did manage to compose a letter; however, it wasn’t as good or as spontaneous as the initial one. I wondered if Ted’s wife had kept the first version and would compare the two.

This experience should have taught me to be more careful about my facts before acting but I am still inclined to jump into a situation with both feet without due consideration. However, a law forbidding women with brothers from marrying men with brothers who have the same names as their siblings would have prevented my social gaffe.

I think I’ve done with letters for the time being and must come up with another topic. I just need to latch onto one.