"I send condolences via text. And I'm not sorry for it."

Condolence texts. Yay or nay?





My friend’s grandmother has died. I have heard about it through another mutual friend, and I am really sorry to hear it. She loved her grandmother.

I send her a text: “I was so sorry to hear about your beloved grandmother. I hope you and your family are doing okay. All my love to you all. xxx”

My friend is currently suffering from anorexia. She is incredibly unwell and undertaking treatment at a hospital. I visit her every weekend but during the week, I text.

I send her a message every few days to make sure she is doing okay: “Hope your day is going well. See you soon. xxx”

My friend has just been diagnosed with cancer. She is going to have to have extensive chemotherapy and a major surgery. She may not even survive. She is only 24 – the same age as me. We grew up together. My dad hears the news from her dad and calls me to tell me. They are close, too.

I am devastated and I cry and then I text her: “Dad told me about the cancer. I am so, so, so sorry and I am really just in shock to have heard the news. Do you want to have dinner soon and we can talk about it? Whenever suits you. I’m always here. xxx”

This is 2013, and this is my life.

This is how I speak to my friends who are going through difficult times. This is how they speak to me when I’m going through difficult times. And so I was a little bit thrown when I saw an article on the Daily Mail called, “What kind of friend sends condolences for your mother’s death by TEXT?”

Of course I clicked on the headline. I had to.


Because I am that friend. And I wanted to understand what was so bad about it.

The article has been written by a woman named Angela, whose mother died only a few weeks ago. Angela is, understandably, devastated. And she is even more devastated by the amount of condolences she received via text.

Angela admits that she’s done it herself in the past – sent a quick “I’m so sorry” rather than pick up the phone or go and see the person. But now that she’s the recipient of the texts, the tables have turned:

Angela with her mother

I realise just how soulless it is to receive condolences – however well-meant – in short and impersonal, almost glib, one-liners, and often signed off with ‘lots of luv xx’.

As I squint to read these messages on my phone screen, I’ve come to understand how this new ‘etiquette’ has obviated the need for a personal touch, even at a time of dark sorrow and deep distress, allowing well-wishers to appear to be doing ‘the right thing’ while, in fact, expending no emotional energy at all.

Interestingly, only a handful of those who contacted me this way prefaced their message with an apology at their mode of communication or explained they had no choice but to resort to texts because they were away on holiday. Though, in some cases, it seemed the text was enough to feel they had discharged their duty even after their return.

Angela mentions that the handwritten letters, sympathy cards and phone calls she received were so much more gratifying than the texts: “You think it shows you care, but the effect can be quite the opposite.” 

I was very sad to read about Angela and her loss. If I lost my own mother, I don’t know how I would cope, and so I do sympathise very much. But I’m not going to rule out my texting-in-tough-times habits.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my friends. It doesn’t mean that I am too busy to worry about what they’re going through. I’m not doing it for the sake of convenience; I don’t merely hit ‘send’ and then happily carry on with the rest of my day.

And of course, every situation is different. I have some friends to whom I am so close that – if anything bad happened to them – I would rush to their side and refuse to leave.

But generally – I think there’s nothing wrong with a condolence text.

For example – with my friend who was diagnosed with cancer – I didn’t want to call because, well, we never call each other. We text to arrange meet-ups and then we meet up in person.

When did we stop delivering condolences in person?

I didn’t want to suddenly call her, crying hysterically. I wanted to give her some time and some space to process everything she was going through, and then – when she was ready – she could text me back to arrange a meet-up. That’s why I sent that text. To let her know that I was there, I knew, that I loved her… but not to intrude too much.

After a few days, she did text me back. We had dinner a few days later. She actually thanked me for the way I had acted. She didn’t want a fuss made. She just wanted her friends to be there.

When my long-term relationship broke up, just over a month ago, I got only a couple of phone calls from very close friends. The rest were texts. And I was thankful for that. I hate talking on the phone – it’s something Gen Y’s hardly do anymore – and would have found it too… confrontational. Too disrupting. Too strange, to have to talk to all these people that I never speak to normally.

But I cherished every loving text I got. I cherished every second someone had taken out of their day to think of me. I got back to them all, when I knew what I wanted to say. I met up with them all in person, when I was ready to leave the house without immediately dissolving into tears.

It’s 2013. We have so many means of communication available to us: there is no need to limit ourselves to the ye-olde days of handwritten letters and house calls. There is no need to slam new methods of communication; even if a text only took a minute to write and send, it doesn’t dilute the message any more.

The author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous.

Do you agree? Or do you think that it’s wrong to send a condolence message via text?