We are skeptical. We are hesitant. And, we are very quick to judge. This is the cultural climate in which we live. A climate in which every message we take in is evaluated for its truthfulness and trustworthiness. A climate in which seemingly everyone is a critic, an expert, and an authority. Authenticity is rare, and therefore, highly valued.

The timing of your messaging, your messaging medium, even your messages themselves, are not that important. It’s true. Because, it’s the sincerity of your messages that your audience is measuring. You can have the most comprehensive, beautiful, and lavish aftercare program that exists, but you will not effectively communicate with your audience unless you communicate authentically.

You must be real. You must be genuine. And, you must impart your sincerity in your messaging, not just at your home. It makes no difference if you e-mail your families, phone them, or send them a card, authenticity will allow you to not just reach your families, but connect with them meaningfully.

For instance, what makes more of an impact: a holiday card stamped by your financial planning firm or a hand-written greeting from a friend? Most would indicate that the handwritten card, with a sentiment created especially for you, is more substantial and emotionally poignant than a stamped signature. But yes, you are correct, handwriting cards is a near-impossible task. So, instead, think about effectively tailoring honest and frank messages for your audience, because that’s where you’re really going to have an impact in aftercare.

Your clients can sniff out inauthenticity very quickly. The last thing anyone wants to grapple with when they are grieving during the holidays, marking the anniversary of a death, or enduring a lost loved one’s birthday is a generic card with the same old generic scenes — waves crashing against a sandy shore, a field of wheat swaying in the wind, a pool of water dimpled by a gentle rain, the sun rising over a horizon of trees — and the same old generic sentiments. You all know the ones of which I speak: “with deepest sympathy,” “remembering you during this time,” “honoring this day,” or “thinking about you.” What is deepest sympathy exactly? Is it the vague nostalgia that some of your clients feel, or is it the gut-wrenching depression which plagues others? They know you aren’t stoically honoring them, or your other clients, on any particular day. They know you aren’t focused only upon them. Your families understand that you run a business, they just don’t want to feel like a part of that business. Like most people in this world, they simply want to be acknowledged.

If you construct a message which honestly reflects your home, your business, and which also acknowledges your clientele and their loss, you will create a lasting connection with your families. Although, you must communicate something which rings true. You must create something which isn’t canned, overused, or stereotypical. Start interacting like a human, not like a preprogrammed automaton. You are open and approachable when speaking with your families, so be just as open and approachable in your messaging. To begin, get rid of the stuff everyone offers, but no one wants to hear. Stop sending out thoughts and prayers. Everyone sends thoughts and prayers and some send thoughts and prayers several times a day, several times a week. This is a tired and worn phrase which, because it is used by millions so often, is completely meaningless. Thoughts and prayers are empty. Instead, speak from the heart. Be straightforward. Be true. Yes, it’s a bit more difficult, but it’s impressive and it’s moving, and it’s extremely effective.

A typical sympathy message follows:

With deepest sympathies…thinking of you during this difficult time.

An authentic and truly endearing sympathy message follows:

We don’t know how this loss is affecting you, but we want you to know we are here for you. Please let us know if there is anything we can do.

The typical message offers nothing but words, while the second message, honest and sincere, because you don’t actually know how your client is feeling, positions you as a trustworthy, sympathetic, and effectual friend.

A typical holiday message follows:

Remembering you during the holiday season…wishing you and your family peace and solace.

An authentic holiday message follows:
We hope your friends and family are healthy and well. Take good care and best wishes for the New Year and beyond.

Wishing somebody peace and solace by definition is wonderful, but it reads as though they are being entombed. It’s so stark and so grim. However, the authentic phrasing sounds like a friend writing a little message to another friend. It’s casual, it’s upbeat, and it’s just really nice.

Remove the formality. Take away the veneer. Say what you mean. Avoid coming across as a motivational poster or meme. And please, no matter how honored you are, just as I am every time a family uses my services, don’t tell people you are honored. It’s superficial. It’s just as hollow as thoughts and prayers. Sometimes, a simple thank you is not only sufficient, but welcome. Sometimes, you don’t even need to say “thank you” or “we’re honored” because it’s implicit. Instead of “With deepest sympathy…We are honored to serve your family during this truly difficult time,” write, “We are sorry for your loss and we wish you weren’t hurting. Please know that now, and in the days to come, you can let us know if we can help you in any way. We will be here for you.” Again, you are positioning yourself as a generous, understanding entity during a time of tumult. You are happy to help and you are encouraging contact because you are pleased to be of assistance. The humble “thank you,” as well as the profoundly impotent “we are honored,” is absolutely implied. Formulating an open and welcoming gesture in words is a message which connects you with your families, instead of one which distances you behind a wall of formal and flowery language.

None of the sentiments I have offered are fancy. They certainly aren’t poetic. But they are forthright and authentic. They are believable. They are simple, but true. And this is what people want to hear. No one wants ambiguous and nebulous deepest sympathies. They want love, compassion, truth, strength, kindness, and a gentle hand. People want to feel special and unique, and generic, formal messaging, no matter the form it takes, only distances people from you, instead of creating the kind of authentic trust you work so hard to create when you meet your families face to face. FBA

Petra Lina Orloff is president and CEO of Beloved, which produces custom, personalized, handcrafted obituaries and eulogies. She has been a professional writer for over 20 years and also completed the PhD program in English at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she taught literature and cultural studies. Her academic area of specialty is storytelling. You may contact her at [email protected] or at (248) 894-7076, or visit www.beloved-press.com.