Offering Condolences: A Letter to My Sons

Hi My Precious Young Men-

Uncle Phil with his granddaughters taking a selfie!

This week, Nonna’s uncle Phil passed away. It would be nice if you could give her a call to offer your condolences, your sympathy. So often, we simply say something like, “I’m sorry for your loss”. But, it’s so perfunctory and the person whose loved one passed away can be left at a loss for words. The conversation isn’t really meaningful or valuable. Even saying, “I don’t know what to say but I’m here for you” is better.

You could think about following up with a question that could lead to a rich, meaningful conversation and one that is healing for the person to whom you offered condolences while also keeping the deceased person’s spirit alive.

I have found it helpful to ask questions like:

  • What are three words you would use to describe the person?
  • What is your favorite or profound or funny memory of the person?
  • What did you learn from the person?
  • Was there something special that you shared? A favorite activity, nickname, joke or handshake?
  • Did the person have a favorite saying or word?
  • What do you want to emulate from the person?
  • How did the person make the world a better place?

Depending on the situation, you may also ask:

  • What was challenging about the person or what challenges did the person have?
  • What was a touching moment from the services?
  • Was there a difficult moment in the services?

As you know, I had the blessing of growing up by surrounded most of Nonna’s aunts and uncles – including Uncle Phil. Uncle Phil married Grandma Anna’s sister, Mela. Grandma was one of six sisters and two brothers. Together with their spouses, they helped shape me into the woman I am today and fueled the work I do. So – let me answer some of the questions I mentioned above in regards to Uncle Phil.

Three words I would use to describe Uncle Phil: loving, devoted, funny… and a fourth – gruff

Favorite memory: Going to his and Auntie Mela’s house – which was built by my great-grandfather, Giacamo, to pick pears off the trees that Giacamo had planted. We used a long pole with a can at the end – a homemade contraption that worked well!

What I learned from Uncle Phil: that an adult son can adore and care for his older mother, that married couples can stick together through thick and thin, that people can make a living at art. He was an illustrator for Sears ads – back when they were done by hand. By the way, he was also the first person I knew who worked at a national, “famous” company.

I also learned that people can marry into families, enjoy a deep friendship and care for each other – as if they were “blood”. Grandma Anna’s siblings and spouses all lived within a few miles of each other. They shared the ups and downs, the ordinary and profound moments of life together. They raised their families together and enjoyed each other’s grandkids, like me! They put their differences aside for the unity of the family. Boys, when we get together and you see Dad and I laughing with or helping my siblings and our spouses or their children – know that we learned this from Uncle Phil and Grandma Anna’s family.

Something special: He always called me “hespress”. I hear that the hespress was a book about a shipwreck that caused havoc. I’ve told you that my Grandpa Joe called me a “rabble-rouser”. I think they both saw in me a fire, an inquisitiveness, an inclination to challenge the systems that didn’t make sense. They also both loved me so much and chose to spend time with me.

What I want to emulate from Uncle Phil:  A continued commitment to family of all generations and to take the time to engage with people in person. Uncle Phil’s grandson, Matthew, a successful businessman, began the eulogy by saying that we live in a global world that is technologically connected. But, that his “Pa” taught him the importance of talking to people face-to-face and of keeping your words. Uncle Phil would say: “A word without a deed is like a garden full of weeds.”

Uncle Phil made the world a better place by serving our country in World War II. He was in the Battle of the Bulge – along with most of my great-uncles. His love for his children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren also changed the world – one life at a time.

Uncle Phil’s favorite movie was Casablanca and his favorite song, As Time Goes By. Check out the lyrics and listen to the song. It talks about the constancy of love – and all that it entails, good and bad – as time goes by. My precious sons, you were born into a family where there is love that continues from generation to generation – as time goes by. I continue to pray for your future spouses and children that you will know the deep and abiding love of Uncle Phil and Grandma Anna’s family.

With much love and many prayers – always –


Aka Andrea J. Fonte Weaver

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