Ask Amy: Has Facebook replaced sympathy cards?

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • December 14, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Dear Amy: My father recently passed away. It was sudden. I texted or personally informed my closest friends and a few days later posted a memorial notice on Facebook.

I’m now wondering if sympathy cards are passe. My mother-in law and father-in-law each sent a card to me, as did a group of my co-workers. Other than that, I’ve received a few brief comments on Facebook. Is this the “new normal” among my cohorts of 40-somethings?!

I really would have appreciated having something I could hold, display and perhaps save in my memory box to ease my grief. Is a Facebook “like” or “sorry for your loss” comment underneath a post the best that people can do?

I’m talking about people with whom I’ve had or have a substantial friendship or family connection, not my wider circle of friends. I’d really appreciate your thoughts.

Amy says: My sympathy goes out to you. I do think that sympathy cards and handwritten notes are still very widely sent, and I agree that these personal expressions are extremely meaningful — and memorable.

However, when people are notified about a life event on Facebook, they tend to respond via that medium. This is one context where registering a “like” with a virtual (thumbs up!) gesture is actually hurtful and (I think) offensive — when surely that is the opposite of the person’s intent.

The difference between your cohorts — in your 40s — and mine (50s) is that by my age, many people know from their own experience more about how to respond to others’ losses.

I hope you will let your experience inform your own actions toward others in the future. A note, a phone call, friends bearing casseroles and hugs — these are welcome and memorable gestures. There is a reason that these things are traditionally done, and that is because they work.

A limit to sharing

Dear Amy: Recently a group of us went to lunch with a female friend. She ordered nothing, saying she wasn’t hungry. When the food arrived, we offered to share. She decided to share.

The bill came and she did not offer to help with the bill or the tip. This happens frequently. My friend and her husband have good jobs and make good money, so that is not the issue. How can we diplomatically suggest that she pay her way?

Amy says: If you have volunteered to share, you should not then expect compensation. You can diplomatically ask for compensation by saying, “Sherry, could you pitch in for the tip?”

But if you know in advance that this is going to happen, you should not feel pressure to share your meal.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at

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