Jewish Condolence Letter

This is a letter I wrote to a friend whose son passed away recently. Somehow, the death of a child is always more puzzling to understand than a death that falls in the natural order of things. My family and my friend's family are reform Jews, so I thought I might share some things that are appropriate/useful to say to American reform or conservative Jews. (In other communities of Jews, etiquette may vary. Also, remember we don't generally send flowers upon a death and we never take flowers to a grave but we do place stones on a grave.)


Dear (name),

I was saddened and shocked to hear of the sudden death of your beautiful son Eli. My family and I wish to offer our deepest sympathies to your family at this time.

I will always remember what a gentle, thoughtful, and vibrant child Eli was. I think back to how proud you were to watch him grow from such a shy toddler into a confident and witty preschooler. He touched our family in so many ways; Abby says "Eli!" every time she sees a Thomas The Tank Engine toy.

The loss of a child is a unique kind of loss, in that it brings up a sense for all of us that the natural order of things has been disrupted. A favorite rabbi of mine once liked it to "Yar-giz eretz mimkomah, va-t'chas omedet palatzut" -- the earth from out its orbit reel, as we tremble with it to its lowest depths. Yet I am confident that your family has built a strong and supportive community, and I know you will surround yourself with loved ones to help navigate this difficult time.

Please let us know what we can do for you during this difficult time. My family and I are always happy to have the children over for as long as you need. I can also let you know about some support groups for grieving children if you are interested.

Zecher tzadik livracha -- may his memory be a blessing.

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