Noller said the public display of grief is healthy.
"In cases like this, writing the condolence messages often serves the need of the person writing it more than anyone else," she said. "The fantasy people have is that this would be read by the grieving family."
Skoglund said Minnesota's condolence books, which included a letter from Gov. Arne Carlson, were shipped to the British Embassy in Washington this week. Sunset Memorial sent its books to the Spencers in England -- Princess Diana's birth family -- under the belief that Diana's sons would have a greater chance of seeing them that way.
Skoglund acknowledges that the royal family has been inundated with hundreds of thousands of cards from around the world. Still, he believes that someone with high connections will see the Twin Cities' memorial book.
"Somebody is going to look at it," he said. "I can't believe that they wouldn't."
Messages written to Mother Teresa at the cathedral this week asked for her prayerful intervention. Some expressed gratitude for her life of service to the poor. They were simple words, filled with respect for a woman who lived a simple life.
But at Sunset Memorial Park, tributes to Diana were more emotional:
"I am sorry you had to leave us. I love you."
"You changed my life and I shall miss you terribly."
"I witnessed you bloom from a shy, young woman to the Queen of Hearts."
At a nearby memorial tower, mourners stacked bouquets of daisies and carnations for Mother Teresa. On the other side, flowers, letters and gifts of teddy bears, angel figurines and heart-shaped balloons surrounded photos of Diana. A boy left his Kirby Puckett baseball card behind with the words, "Princess Diana -- Love, Chris."
Michael Leming, a professor of sociology at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., sees parallels between these memorials and the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., where mourners leave Army boots, uniforms, flowers, photos and letters.
"There's a continuity with how people are expressing their grief," said Leming, who has written eight books on death, dying and bereavement. "In our culture, we have been robbed of the opportunity of expressing our grief. People are looking for this kind of permission to get in touch with their feelings."
The mystique about death has been crumbling slowly since the 1970s with the advent of hospices, grief therapists and university courses on death and dying.
Where funerals were once strictly somber affairs, today they sometimes are celebrations of the dead, highlighted by the passing of microphones so mourners can swap memories. On the Internet, people can log into cyber-cemeteries to visit cyber-graves of the rich and famous. And in public cemeteries, computer technology has given rise to more personalized grave markers featuring etchings of family members.
"What you're seeing right now with the condolence books is wonderful," said Ben Wolfe of Duluth, past president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. "It's giving people an opportunity to express what they're feeling, which hasn't always been accepted in our culture."
Wolfe said a few congregations and funeral homes routinely encourage mourners to write letters recalling special memories of the deceased, which are given to survivors. The mass outpouring following the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana makes it likely that these practices will grow, he said.