Tag Archives: Mimi Turner

Grief: Writing Back. #Sympathy Cards, #Condolences, #Etiquette


I am about to take pen to paper, in a literal sense and finally respond to all the people who’ve expressed their sympathies to me when Mom died in September.

that's a lot of writing. i'm glad i read about who gets a note back or i'd be here for weeks.

two stacks. that’s a lot of writing. i’m glad i read about when to send a reply or i’d be here for weeks.


I have avoided this task because I’m basically not quite sure I understand it. I started a post back in November (which I didn’t share) about my appreciation for the symbolism of the sympathy cards, but my general dislike of having to return the sentiment in some form of acknowledgement. I can hear my grandmother saying, “Send those notes, Molly…” and I can also hear my mother say, “Why bother? People know you know they sent the note… who is this for? Them?”


It’s like this to me: “You sent me a note to tell me you’re sad for my loss and that you know I’m sad. Thank you. Now I will send you a note back to tell you I appreciate that you knew I was sad and that I’m grateful you were co-sad with me or aware of my sadness. Here’s me seeing you seeing me.” It’s Avatar to the Nth degree.

I’m sure I’m supposed to reply in a year. I haven’t even bothered to check in with Emily Post about it. But Grandma wins and I’m about to start the notes. I’ll check in with you when I’ve finished the task. I started this post on Friday, June 6, 2014. I expect I’ll wrap it up sometime around September 2016.

Not so fast…

Well, shit.

I wish I’d checked in with the internet first.

Real Simple magazine says send them, but if you’re too devastated, don’t because real sympathy means your loved ones understand: “True sympathy means respecting the grieving process, selflessly and without expectation.”

ask.MetaFilter.com (who knows what that is) says if you get a (just a) card (in absence of flowers, etc), then you don’t need to send a card because you wouldn’t send a card back for just a birthday card. Snarky MetaFilter.

FuneralWise.com says: “There is no official time frame, but within two-three weeks of the funeral or memorial service is appropriate.

You don’t need to send a formal thank you note to everyone who attended the funeral/visitation or sent you a sympathy card. Instead, a thank you note or acknowledgement should be sent to anyone who has done something extra, including:

    • Pallbearers or people who have sent or brought flowers, donations, food, support, etc.”

Then it goes on to say this, “So the funeral of your loved one was over a month ago (or several months, or even a year or more). You forgot to send thank you notes, or you just didn’t have the heart to do it at the time. Now you’re feeling better, and you’re wondering: Is it too late?”

While “… it’s never too late; you will need to acknowledge the delay in sending the note. For example, preface your thank you with something like this: ‘I’m sorry it took me so long, but I do want to thank you for your kindness…’ Or, ‘My apologies for the delay in sending this, but your gift of flowers for Joe’s funeral service was lovely, and I wanted to thank you…'”

So that helps. I’ll go with FuneralWise. I’ve sent sympathy cards to people and sometimes I received replies and sometimes I didn’t. I never kept score. People go out of their minds when someone dies; the last thing they need to worry about is offending someone who’s offered emotional support.

It also helps me remember at this point, now nine months later, how thoughtful people were when it all went down. When I was 15, our next door neighbor suffered a horrible loss of her live-in grandchild who was ejected from a car in an accident. Less than a year before, my younger cousin also died in a vehicle-related accident and the whole thing was BRUTAL. His parents were experiencing marital discord in the months preceding his death and so his accident ripped everyone apart.

For my neighbor, whom I barely knew, I made a huge tuna casserole as some form of outreach. I didn’t ask, I just showed up with the food and walked away. I remembered how raw we all were at my cousin’s funeral and then reception, so I knew that family was suffering. Eating, much less cooking is the last thing on your mind.

Back to 2013. We had a small, impromptu gathering at my house here in Virginia the day after Mom died. My in-laws, some sibs-in-law and close high school and college friends came by to see my brothers who’d also swooped in to cocoon, hunker down, help Dad deal, and start strategizing logistics for the Mass and funeral ceremonies.

It’s all coming back to me now, which is a good thing.

The day Mom died, Labor Day, was the day before school started here. The night she died, Dad spent the night with my younger brother, his pregnant wife and their two little kids. The next day, I got up (I’m not sure I slept), took my kids to school, put on a brave face and operated on autopilot. My husband took the day off from work; my older brother flew in from NYC and arrived on an 11am shuttle. We went to lunch at a Thai place near my home almost immediately after dropping off his luggage.

I remember it clearly now: my husband and I picked him up at the airport, and he dumped his bags in my SUV’s “wayback” (as I used to call it when I was a kid) and we drove home. I want to say we were all quiet in the car. But I also want to say, we all, the three of us talked about Mom, talked about how surreal and crazy it all was, and then I want to say we listened to the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.

When we pulled up to the house, we parked and my brother took his bags to our guest room, washed his face and then plopped himself on one of our leather chairs. He sighed, ran his hands through his hair a couple times and said, “Screw it. I’m hungry. You hungry? Let’s get some lunch. My treat.”

We got back in the car, drove a few miles away and each ordered lunch. More “what the hell” and “Mom’s dead…” “How’s Dad? This is so crazy…” stuff at the table. It probably was one of the coolest times I’ve ever had with my brother as we’ve become adults. It was very real and vulnerable and safe. All bets were off and we could say anything we wanted, no judgement. The only rule was no rules.

That heavily lacquered table in the strip mall Thai restaurant with the useless polyester napkins which don’t ever absorb, and its Zen-inspired Asian piano & wind chime music was the birthplace of, “We’re all a little crazy, Mol.”

We each had a Corona and a lime. Talked and talked for about two hours. Then we shared one more Corona and got back in the car. We drove back to our house and then friends started to show up, just … out of the blue. They knew what had happened, but we didn’t make any plans, they just knew we’d be home and likely zombie idiots who’d forgotten how to feed ourselves. They descended with love and reality as if to say, “We are coming to support you and we don’t really care what you say…” CaraLeigh, Donna, Jeff, John, Scott, Matt, Tom, Jill, Tom, Laurie … It was very life-fulfilling and it gave me hope. I cleaned the kitchen. Barely sat down. Couldn’t really sit still. Food from Kelly, Rebecca, Donna and Jill was so loving. We’ve gone back to eating cereal…

The weather today is very similar to the weather that day. And I’m outside, just like I was that day when Dad called to tell me Mom fell down and that the EMTs told him she likely had a cardiac arrest and that she was on transport to the hospital.

Crap. Now I’m remembering how I fell apart in my brother’s best friends’ arms when I saw him. I just … completely lost it. There’s something about this guy: I’ve known him since I was 15 and he knew Mom so well; on a lark they took a couple community college classes together; I’m so glad she had him to hang out with because things were so hard for me with her. Anyway, seeing him pretty much undid me. Memories are strong; I was late to picking up Thing 3 just now because I was swept back up in those heady posthumous days.

So those are the people who will get the notes. It’s good and it will be good for me to send them now. Immediately after Mom died, was school, then my birthday, grief and more grief. Then Thing 3’s birthday and Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Thing 2’s birthday, then Charlie, then our frigid winter and yoga certification, and then yoga teaching and more grief. The pressure, quite frankly, to write any note has been hard for me. I simply couldn’t wrap my arms around the point of it. But now I see the point of it, and it’s good.

Thank you.

Grief: Dealing.


I’ve written this post a thousand times over the last several days.

It has been a week since I last wrote about my mom online.

There is so much to process. So much I want to say to you both. I thought I’d never be here; I thought it would be years before I wrote about my mother’s death; not so much because I wouldn’t be able to process it, but because I was convinced, until 4:02pm on Labor Day that she would be around for several more years, despite my premonitory stomach aches when I thought about Labor Day and her.

The first thing I will say is this: if your parents are still alive, let them know you love them. Even if you fight with them. You can still love them if they make you crazy. If they won’t hear of it, write it down on a piece of paper. Look, I fought like a freakin’ roller derby champion with my mom; our stuff was epically toxic at times. But I know now it was not because I wanted to fight nor because I wanted to win; it was all about my love for her and my need to have her present.

Nora Ephron said it best:

“Still, it made me sad. You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were or back into the people they used to be. But they’re never going to. And even though you know they’re never going to, you still hope they will.”

Let them know that the reason you fight with them is because you love them; you simply can’t have this much discord without love. It’s impossible. If you didn’t care you wouldn’t fight; you’d be indifferent. So stop lying to yourself and saying you don’t care. I was able to do that before Mom died; I know that now. Either you do love your parents and you fight or you don’t and you’re estranged. Either way, come to terms with yourself and be at peace with it because YOU NEVER KNOW.

The second thing I will say is this: get an advanced directive. Good God, get the advanced directive. Everyone dies. Everyone. Helping out your daughter would be great. She would be filled with less woe and less confusion when she’s lining up your funeral arrangements. It would be easier on her knowing that even though the lilies are the only flowers available and you always preferred wildflowers, that the lilies might be the only way to go; trust me: she knows you love the wildflowers. Do this. NOW. On the fence about something? State that you’re on the fence about something. Share at least a semblance.

The third thing I will say is this: the moment of going from the scared and sacred anonymity of “My mother just died, may I have a milkshake?” to the known, “her mother just died, I don’t know what to say to her…” is infinitesimal. If you know someone is grieving, reach out, even if you think you won’t have anything important to say. Just knowing that someone on the other end of the visual and vibrational path is paying attention is OK. My neighbor and I? I was talking to someone else and I gave her a long glance and she returned it and we shared a nod and a quiet moment. Sometimes that’s all we need. A hand over the heart, a silent nod.

The fourth thing I will say is this: prayer works. I don’t know if it’s God, I don’t know if it’s the meditative aspect, the focusing on something else other than yourself, the repetitive stuff and the love coming from people who know you — AND EVEN THOSE WHO DON’T know you — is undeniable. The past few days, when I have felt nothing but emptiness and desolation and sadness and woe, I would in a moment feel relief, love, rest and peace. There is no other way to explain it.

Don’t bother trying to tell me a scientific reason. I’m not listening… La lal laalaaa… I cannot hear you I cannot hear you…la lalalaaaa.

Last week, I was shrouded in love and prayer and I felt it. Several days last week, I was held in the comfort of my cousins; the closest thing I have to sisters and their in-laws and I know this now, I am blessed. The first thing my cousin did when she saw me was put her hands on my shoulders as though she was this Italian mother and stepped back to look at me. She said to her twin, “Not bad! She looks …” and the other one said, “She looks pretty good!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. I felt seen. That was huge.

I arrived on Thursday and we went to the funeral home. Friday, I went with my cousins and our friend and a faceless chicken (it’s a post for another time, trust me) and we selected Mom’s burial site. Friday night, family gathered and we all cried and shared stories and laughed and celebrated Mom.

Saturday was the big day. I was nauseated. I could not focus or get my head straight. Mom’s celebration Mass and burial was vibrant and loving. My younger brother played guitar and sang the Irish hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above,” and delivered a tender eulogy. My older brother delivered another fantastic tribute to Mom which allowed us all to sigh, nod in agreement and laugh out loud. I said nothing on the altar; not in defiance, but because I was obliterated physically, but I wanted to be with my brothers.

At the burial site, my older brother recited verbatim Act 4, Scene 1’s lines from The Tempest.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Isn’t that gorgeous? Mom would be so very pleased and she would have loved this funeral. She would have wanted one just like it if she’d attended it when alive. I can hear her, saying, with her scores of sterling bangles jangling, “Bravo! Brilliant! Drat! I wish I were there! Do it again!!” But I know she attended.

She is buried between two sugar maples on a small rise in an Irish Catholic cemetery just outside her hometown in a plot 200 feet from her aunt and grandparents. As my cousin said, “Close to family because she’s new here, but not too close because a girl has her secrets afterall…”

My cousins and I made up a new funeral-related disorder for the DSM-V. If I get their permission I will share it, but we are thrilled that we know Mom would love what we’ve come up with.

My mother was many things. Among them, a brilliant cartoonist. Here is one of my favorites of hers:

(C) Mimi Turner

(C) Mimi Turner

She was very clever and she wanted for many years to get published in The New Yorker magazine. Seeing this cartoon, I can’t imagine why they didn’t publish it; my only guess, which was probably hers as well, is that they were intimidated by her.

Look at the image again. I’ll wait.

That whole thing — from the size of the brush to the size of the dot, the canvas and the artist’s posture, is ideal. She was an avid subscriber to the magazine and forever wanted me to get a subscription. Only after I finally gave in to her, and let her give me a gift subscription, did she move on to my absolute need to have a subscription to Vanity Fair, which sit unread and still in their wrappers.

. . . . .

Today, I had to tell my cleaning ladies in Spanish that my mother died. I didn’t have to tell them, I mean, Mom didn’t live here, but it was one of those surreal moments where the words just sort of poured out of my mouth. They asked me how I was and then I said, “Hola. Mi madre es muerte.” Even as I was saying it, I was like, “WHA—?” But they sighed and they came in for landings, they wanted to hold me and tell me how sorry they were and they hugged me! O! How they hugged me. It was nice. I felt loved. I always feel like I have to explain why the house is chaotic (three boys, large furniture, smaller spaces and a massive dog will do that coupled with my general disinterest in housekeeping if we’re being real) whenever they come. I don’t feel that way so much anymore.

Last Friday night when we were talking in his mother’s kitchen, another cousin, a doctor, reminded me of how things go in families for the most part. He said over his shoulder as he was doing the dishes, “You’ve probably figured this out by now, Mol: the daughters run the show. The daughters end up doing all the stuff…” and my heart sank and then rose because I knew he was right.

Having my mother not only go to God but then being involved intimately in the processes and arrangements to lay her body to rest (which I was honored to do, and I’d do it a thousand times again) has put in sharp relief the division between sense and nonsense. My kids are still fighting and bickering; the phone still rings and arguments break out but I have little tolerance. It’s like I’m on a peace parade. Either everyone gets along or they can leave. And crap that really doesn’t matter? G’bye.

Mom lost her parents and her favorite aunt in seven months of each other. Boom … boom … boom. I had no clue then because I was in my late teens if not 20, but I know it now: this shit, this grief shit is HEAVY DUTY. My immunities are down. My energy is down. I used to run 3 miles several times a week. Now I can barely walk 1 mile due to exhaustion and depletion and a distracted mind.

I start a cup of tea and then I see something that I want to look at. Then I sit down. Then before I completely fold a blanket, I see a shoe that needs to be put away and then I see something when I’m putting away the shoe which prompts me to go to the basement which is always a losing proposition because I ALWAYS forget why I’m ever in the basement, and then I go back upstairs and I realize I have yet to put the shoe away and then second-guess where I wanted to put the shoe in the first place and then I think of her, and then I cry. Right there. I just cry.

I am observant. I am perceptive. One of the things that both delighted and chagrined my parents has been my ability to see things, subtle things and make connections that other people can’t or won’t. In these sad days immediately following my mother’s death, I find that ability to be a blessing.

My mother made it into The New Yorker. They just don’t know it. She died on September 2, 2013 with visions of ice cream in her head.

I like to think of this as Mom: Winning.

I like to think of this as “Mom: Winning.”

These are the kinds of things I notice; the things I string together that help me make sense of things in an otherwise senseless time. That cover brings a smile to my face; not only did Mom want ice cream, but she also loved roller coasters. And one more, in case that’s not enough, the signature in the lower right corner, “Viva,” raises my eyebrow too because viva means alive in Spanish and “long live,” as a dear friend shared with me.

Many thoughts pass through my mind. I dreamt of her yesterday morning. She was on the beach I spent many summers on. She was walking along the beach in street clothes, a suit she wore when I graduated from college. She was watching my youngest son swim in the water. I’ve had lots of dreams about water since she died. Amniotic fluid? Life-giving water? I dunno. I have to set a reminder for myself to remember to pick up that youngest child from school these days; my gray matter just isn’t firing. All I can think of are write, eat, pray, talk to mom, sleep, my children, my family, my husband. That’s enough for now. If I didn’t have Murphy, I wouldn’t be out walking as much.

Thank you.