Condolence Correspondence, Vol. 14, Issue 39

Dear Etiquetteer: How long does one really have to write a condolence note after someone dies? Is it still acceptable to send a note a couple months later?

Dear Condoling:

Condolences really should be written and sent as soon as one learns of a death. Etiquetteer will never forget the Busy Executive who, on learning of the death of a colleague's parent, reached instantly for the box of notecards and began penning his condolence. This is why it always helps to have a box of Perfectly Proper stationery on hand, as well as postage stamps that don't look too celebratory.

The later one puts off a condolence, the harder it feels to write. That does not, in fact, make it harder to write; it just feels that way. Late condolences, which for the purposes of this column Etiquetteer will define as condolences written later than two weeks after the death, should include at least one of two subjects: specific reminiscences to cast a positive light on the deceased, whether humorous, inspiring, or otherwise; and the knowledge that the writer remains concerned about the recipient even after the funeral has taken place. Etiquetteer advises correspondents to avoid "If there's anything I can do . . . " or its variations unless one really is ready to do anything when the condoled call for help.