My dad says it’s been weird to read his alumni newsletter over the years, as his graduating class goes from a nice long Marriages column, to a nice long Newcomers column, to a nice long Deaths column. I’m noticing the same slow gradual shift in my own alumni newsletter (the Newcomers list is getting alarmingly sparse), and in the kind of news I get from family and friends. I had so many wedding gifts to buy for awhile, and now almost none—or sometimes one for a second wedding. For awhile I had a large “Baby Gifts Box” in the basement: I could confidently buy good baby stuff on clearance, knowing I’d have a recipient for it. But now it’s rare to need a baby present.
And for a huge part of my life I had no need for sympathy cards, but now I need them regularly enough to get frustrated with the skimpy selection. It’s hard to find the right one for the situation. Some of them are way too light, like “Oh, pooh, someone died! Hope ya feel better soon!!” Some of them are too heavy, like “The light has gone out of your world; I wouldn’t be surprised if you never recovered.” Some of them are way too elaborate: $5.99 worth of gilt script and big flowers and tissue lining. Many of them have the wrong tone for my relationship to the bereaved: I’m not going to say things the same way to my grandaunt who lost her husband as to a friend who lost a parent. Many of them make unsubstantiated claims about how things will turn out. Some of them have gaggingly cheezy text.
When I do find a good card, I buy several copies of it and tuck them aside. This feels a little too…practical, considering the circumstances in which I need the cards, but IT IS HARD TO FIND GOOD ONES OKAY? Plus, and this goes even another level of practical: when my grandmother died and we were going through the sympathy cards to help my grandfather, there were a lot of duplicates: 100 people choosing from the selection of 10 sympathy cards. If you buy ahead of time and those cards are discontinued, you won’t be duplicating. And if I may say one more practical thing, it’s nice to have a card I can send out right away instead of having to wait until the next time I can go to the store.
It used to be common to use black-edged writing paper for sympathy letters, and until recently you could still get it at Crane & Co. They do have the black-bordered notecards (photo from Crane.com), and I’ve considered them but I worry that it seems a little morbid to have Death Stationery on hand (but stockpiling sympathy cards? no prob!).
Etsy is an option, but I found it difficult to find what I was looking for: a search for “sympathy card” generated thousands and thousands of matches, very few of which were sympathy cards. I did find a few, including the one above by Silver Cloud Delights (photo from their shop).
Here’s another Etsy card I like: Sympathy Letterpress Card by Paper Dragonfly Studio (photo from their shop).
And one more: Sympathy letterpress card by Smock Paper (photo from their shop).
Since sympathy cards tend to be expensive anyway (as with Mother’s Day cards, they know they’ve got you in a situation where skimping on the cost feels wrong), I’d prefer to give my $4 to an artist rather than to a greeting card company. On the other hand, the shipping can make the artist cards more like $5 or $6, so I would probably buy a little stack of cards all at once to reduce the shipping cost/card.
Or you could make a card: online photo-processors often have easy ways to make your own card with your own printed sentiment inside. I tried this on Snapfish and found it hard to find the background I wanted (it’s mostly birthday and wedding and baby designs), but once I found a good one the whole thing went smoothly. The card cost around $3.50 including shipping, and I put text in it that didn’t make me want to gag, and it was highly sentimental with photos of the deceased on the front. I was happy with how it turned out, and with the quality of the printing and the card—but in the end I had doubts and didn’t send it after all because I wasn’t sure if that was a bit…odd, to have made a card out of the photos? What do you think? Too weird? I bought a nice card at the store instead.