For just a few more days 2MyHero is offering 20% off the Mixed Pack of Gold Star Military Sympathy cards sold on Amazon and Etsy. Be sure to pick up a pack to have on hand when you have the opportunity to come alongside a Gold Star family and either empathize or sympathize with them.
Do you feel unsure about what the difference is between empathy and sympathy? Do you struggle with what to write inside a military sympathy greeting card? Read on, I have some suggestions for you.
sym·pa·thy /ˈsimpəTHē/ noun
Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Sympathy is the physical display of pity and hoping that the person will be relieved of that pain or suffering. It is caring about the well being of somebody without personally knowing the struggle.
em·pa·thy /ˈempəTHē/ noun
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is both caring and personally knowing the struggle the other person’s going through. You have to have personal experience AND care in order to empathize.
Compassion is either empathy or sympathy paired with a desire to relieve that person of their pain. I love how Brene Brown in her YouTube explaining empathy says,
“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
This little animated video expresses it well, although I do disagree that sympathy is only patronizing as it is depicted in this video. I believe sincere sympathy can be expressed in a meaningful and helpful way. But perhaps the illustration is intended to help people express sympathy in a way that isn’t patronizing. I think we all need a refresher course on that. It’s all too easy to slip back into that.
The military family community is a tight one. It makes perfect sense. The kinds of experiences these families share are unique and very hard for civilians to fully understand. However, I don’t think that should keep civilians from expressing sympathy or empathy when a military family experiences the loss of a loved one who was either active duty, retired or a veteran.
Of course, the very best option would be to express sympathy or empathy while sitting together physically in the same space. I’d choose that option any day over sending a card. But it simply isn’t always possible. And distance shouldn’t keep you from trying to make a connection.
If you aren’t able to be with them in person, then I encourage you to reach out with a military-specific sympathy card and express your understanding of how intense the struggle is.
Here are a few of my suggestions of things to write or include to personalize the military sympathy card:
Commit to remembering their loved one
Almost every Gold Star mom I know has expressed to me at one time (or more than one time) that their greatest fear is that their child will be forgotten. If the death is recent, write the date down somewhere you’ll be reminded of it in the future. Every Gold Star mom or dad I know appreciates it when people remember the day their child died. They will never forget it, and it helps them know that their child’s life is not forgotten.
This is SO helpful! If you have a history with the person who passed, share snippets or stories with the family. Those who remain LOVE to hear of the fond remembrances you have of their loved one. They may never have heard the stories you have. They may have forgotten about the incident and the reminder will be welcome.
“I remember ______ saying the funniest things at the most unexpected time”
Do you have a newspaper clipping, photo, swatch of fabric or paper from the past you can slip in into the card? In some cases this alone will bring a flood of happy memories to the family. It’s amazing how a simple thing becomes extraordinarily meaningful when someone has passed.
Invitation to connect via phone or in-person
if possible. Give the grieving family member space, but also invite them to meet wherever and whenever it is most comfortable. This will be different in every situation, so you’ll have to use your best judgment in what you offer.
“Can we get together for a hug and a cup of coffee? I’d love to hear where you are at in processing your grief.”
Maybe come and meet them in their own home . . . maybe offer to meet and treat them to coffee, lunch or dinner . . . maybe offer to treat them to a massage or a spa treat . . . a night or two at a place to retreat such as the beach, a mountain cabin or even a hotel if that is the best option. You might even get creative and chip in on something special with a group of friends.
I love this phrase a friend of mine said years ago,
“Sometimes it’s just really helpful to stare at a different set of 4 walls.”
You can borrow that and write it in your card!
Give them the freedom to express their grief
without judgment or effort to fix the situation. For men, this is particularly true, but this can be true of women also: it is generally socially unacceptable to cry. We have all had experiences where we felt an intense emotion but did not feel the freedom to either cry or yell or punch something.
“I don’t mind if you cry.”
Sometimes I believe it’s helpful to also say, “If I don’t cry, please don’t take that as a lack of caring on my part. I typically don’t cry very easily, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care or understand.” I think people often believe that you care only if you are crying too. You’ll need to reinforce that you do care either with words or physical expressions such as a hug.
Hopefully, there have been some helpful ideas here to give you the nudge you need to make a connection with a military family who has recently lost a loved one.
The 20% off sale ends January 26, 2020. It is a great time to stock up on sympathy greeting cards specifically designed for military families. These aren’t offered in the big box stores, but you can find them on Amazon and on Etsy.
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