Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company remains independent and family-run, and has built a wealth of expertise as each generation has handed the business to the next. Still based in their original building, the organisation now also has offices across the county, in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. A variety of topics aligned with bereavement and death have been covered via the blog and today Community Co-Ordinator Becky gives her thoughts on condolence cards…
Although I sit firmly in the Millennial demographic – someone who knows how a VHS works and has fixed their fair share of audio cassettes with a pencil, plus knows what a floppy disk was for and is proficient in the use of a fax machine… but has now confidently embraced the internet, with my first instinct in an unknown situation being to pull up a search engine in the hunt for a solution – I’m also from a family of enthusiastic card senders.
In my family, all occasions warrant the purchase of a commemorative card. Most notable are birthdays and Christmas, but also in the obligatory card-sending category are new births, wedding anniversaries, receipt of gifts, compassion for poor health and, of course, deaths. Fortunately, I’ve had less cause to buy condolence cards than any other variety, but whenever I have had to seek one out, I’ve found them largely uninspiring.
Condolence cards have a reputation for invoking very traditionalist or generic imagery. They often involve swirly fonts (and these are usually either embossed or metallic!) and graphics incorporating a spray of flowers. And when it comes to it, I’ve regularly wondered how appropriate this imagery truly is. It’s certainly homogenous, and culturally-biased, assuming that the person receiving the condolence card appreciates an old-fashioned style.
On several times when I’ve found myself in search of a condolence card, it’s been to send in memory of someone who has died at a young age, and I’ve wanted to offer a card which is more contemporary. Even when the person who has died has been elderly, I’ve sometimes wanted to find something more personal, invoking that person’s interests. Generally, this has meant that I’ve settled for a card which is blank on the inside, and felt a little dissatisfied by the experience.
Last week, something refreshing popped up on our Twitter feed. A woman posted about having a similar experience – being in the position of requiring a condolence card but finding those on offer uninspiring. Rather than settling for blank cards as I have, she’s taken a pro-active approach and turned to her network in order to push for change. Stacey’s Tweet caught my attention straight away – the cards are brightly-coloured (with a lot of pink!) and use contemporary fonts… plus they include punchy messages such as, ‘There is no good card for this. I’m so sorry’ and, ‘Even though a cocktail and a hug won’t fix it, I’m here for both.’
I re-tweeted her message with a supportive comment, genuinely pleased to see that there was a more diverse offering emerging. When my Tweet caught the attention of others, it prompted me to search further and see what else is out there.
I’ve had several family birthdays during the coronavirus lockdown, and although some shops selling greetings cards have remained open, the selection has been limited. In addition, cards are often one of those tactile purchases – I find myself picking them up and putting them down again, in order to read the message or just fully-inspect the artwork before choosing. With social distancing changing our behaviours, the persistent touching of and then rejecting items has become a far less common practice, and something I’m not comfortable with, so I had already turned to the internet for birthday cards. It was now time to see what my digital friend offered in terms of condolence…
The answer, it would appear, is a good selection! My first port of call was Thortful, which I’ve used to buy birthday cards during lockdown. Their Condolence section was easy to find, and I saw a few cards I liked if I were in need of one immediately. The company is known for producing both funny and rude cards (the latter can be de-selected for browsing if you prefer!), and the condolence section is no exception – there are more traditional, subtle designs available, but like the ones Stacey had designed, there are some which incorporate swearing, or phrases such as, ‘I’m all ears if you need a friend’. There are also those which combine the two approaches – cards with images of flowers and traditional phrases such as, ‘Sorry for your loss’, but with stylised floral artwork and non-swirly fonts.
Popular gift marketplace NotOnTheHighStreet also sells a huge variety of cards, and I’m impressed by their offerings too. Many follow the more traditional route, but due to the style of trader that this site is, they also promote independent brands and each maker presents a different approach, showcasing their individual styles. The other unique selling point of NotOnTheHighStreet is that many sellers offer extensive personalisation – names and other iconography can be adjusted to reflect individual tastes.
One of the market leaders in online greetings card retail is Moonpig. Their personalisation offers a different twist: whilst they sell fewer condolence cards than the other retailers mentioned, they do allow you to add your own choice of photos to your design. This means that you could create a tribute to the person who has died, or share any other photos of yourself and the person you are sending the card to. Cards can be sent to yourself first so that you can add your own handwritten message, or can be sent directly to the recipient. Again, designs vary from the more traditional to contemporary varieties.
I’m really pleased that my search revealed such diversity. I enjoy personalising a choice of greetings card, and I don’t see why there should be fewer options simply due to the fact that a card is being sent following the death of a loved one, rather than to celebrate a birthday or another occasion. Various other occasions have already come a significant distance. For example, it’s more widely recognised now that we may wish to send other women or men in our lives a card on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Many cards for these occasions also reflect family groups which are more diverse than a heterosexual couple, and it is only right that bereavement moves in the same direction.
It’s another one of those elements which can make a hard time easier, or raise a smile in a difficult moment – to be able to recognise who someone was and what they meant to those around them, rather than be limited by a very small range, is brilliant.