Ask Team Practical: Timing Your Thanks

Is it ever a bad time to say thank you?


Q: I’m a newlywed and dealing with the loss of my Dad. His funeral was a few months after the wedding and a lot of guests attended both.

I hope you don’t think my question is trivial, as it is important to me. I am struggling with the timing of my wedding thank you cards. I sincerely want to thank all of my guests. My Mum is sending out thank you cards for all the sympathy cards, flowers and funeral donations that we received, and she is hoping to send them this week. I have discussed it with my Mum and she says it doesn’t look good to send these two cards, with two very different tones, at the same time. I understand this, but my perspective is that my wedding was an event, just as my Dad’s passing was an event, and we can thank people all the same.

I am also worried that the guests receiving my thank you cards might see it as insensitive of me to be thinking back to my wedding when there has been a death in between! I thought about putting a little note in each card acknowledging how meaningful it was to us to have had Dad at the wedding. The wording has to be thoughtful, I know.

I would really appreciate any advice you have on this subject.

Warm wishes,

A: Dear L,

Not to get too philosophical on you, but, that’s sort of the nature of life. Tragic, heartrending things happen. And so do jubilant, wonderful things. You can have feelings of one kind about the first, and entirely different feelings about the second, and all of those thoughts and emotions can coexist at exactly the same time.

Loss is a funny sort of thing because of the way we process grief, and how that sometimes works out to feel a little like guilt or shame. Guilt that you’re still here and your loved one isn’t. Shame when you’re using your time and energy to focus on something other than your loss. It sometimes can feel like a disservice to someone’s memory when we’re just enjoying ourselves—as if that’s not respectful or fair to them, or like we don’t deserve those brief moments of relief. What I’m saying is that’s all sort of silly. You’re allowed to think back fondly on your wedding day even when things are at their worst. In fact, that’s a pretty fantastic idea.

So, yes. You can send out thank you notes full of appreciation for your guests, their help, their presence, and their gifts, and that won’t in any way detract from grieving your loss. You don’t need to weight your gratitude with acknowledgment of your dad’s passing. And I’d even suggest that you don’t need to worry about spacing your thanks far enough from your mom’s.


That’s the thing; you don’t need to. But in this specific instance, I’d tread a bit more carefully around her requests. Write out those thank you cards right now while you’re feeling grateful and motivated to do it, and then maybe shelve them for a few weeks before dropping them in the mail. Like I said, grief is a funny sort of thing, and you can give your mom room to handle hers while still thanking your guests.

Your loved ones know that you’re happy about your wedding and you’re sad about your father. The one emotion doesn’t negate the other, and thanking your loved ones won’t get in the way of either of them.

Team Practical, do other events in the family impact how you handle the wedding? Is it ever a bad time to say, “thank you”?

Photo from Oakland Bakes.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • jhs

    Obviously it’s complicated here, but I feel like thank you notes should be sent out vaguely in the order that events happened? So if people get a thank you note for the funeral before they get a thank you for the wedding, they might think the wedding ones got lost?

    • Alison O

      I think if I had been a guest of the wedding and knew that the father had died a few months after, I would not be expecting to receive wedding thank you’s very quickly (and wouldn’t be too upset if I never received one, although I might worry somewhat that my gift never arrived), understanding that L may be dealing with a lot of grief, as well as possibly serious practical matters related to the death of L’s dad (estate, insurance, etc.).

      If there were guests at the wedding who would not be in a position to know about the father’s death, though it seems unlikely (m)any people would fall into this category), L could start by thanking them sooner rather than later.

      • jhs

        True, I’m not sure of the details, like if a few months is more like 2 or more like 7. But yeah, people are going to be much more forgiving in a time like this, so there’s no need to put pressure on yourself.

        • L x

          Hi jhs,

          Thank you for your message. My Dad passed away 6 weeks after the wedding so it didn’t leave much time in between for doing anything but caring for him. As for the timing of the cards, I also thought if my Mum doesn’t want the cards to go out together, I’d rather wait to send mine because her cards were helping her grief and that was important to me. You are totally right about the pressure, I’m really good at giving myself a hard time, and this really isn’t a major thing to worry about.

          Thank you

          L xx

          • jhs

            Aww I’m glad it helped! Yeah, there’s really no set protocol for this, so it’s all about doing what feels best for you and your family.

      • L x

        Hi Alison O,

        Thank you for your understanding here. My Dad passed away 6 weeks after the wedding, and you are right, I was consumed with caring for him and then dealing with the funeral, and the ongoing things like finances and grieving.

        You have helped me to realise that even though all these things are the centre of my life at the moment, my wedding guests aren’t sitting by their letter boxes scratching their heads thinking “when is that thank you card going to arrive”!!! They will understand won’t they.

        And yes, I can definitely start thanking my friends first, who are more detached from Dad, and then move on to family.

        Thank you again,

        L xx

    • copper

      I wonder if that’s the unspoken reason the LW doesn’t feel like waiting on them?

  • My grandmother died 6 days after my wedding and it was a surreal time for me. I was on my honeymoon and it was really sudden. I processed my grief with wine and thank you notes about the wedding. I think Liz’s advice is sound. Write the thank you’s surrounding your Dad’s passing and the support you received and send them in a few weeks. Writing the thank you notes and writing in my journal helped me process what happened and helped me grieve in my own way on my own time. Hugs to you.

    • L x

      Hi Deva C,

      Thank you for being so honest in sharing your story. I am so sorry that your Grandmother’s passing was so soon after your wedding day. And I can partly relate to the surreal feelings, my Dad passed away 6 weeks after the wedding.

      It’s comforting to know that the thank you notes and your journal were part of the grieving process. I’ve been doing everything to keep them completely separate, and it just makes it harder because the reality is that both things are important in my life at the same time!

      It really is kind of you to share this with me, and thank you so much.

      L xx

  • Marie

    This is sound advice.

    In my old job, one of our colleagues gave birth to her first child the same week that her mother died. We’d planned to send a chipper card about the baby, but the death, of course, made everyone tense. My boss thought that we should send a sympathy card and some flowers; but I suggested that instead, we send a present for the baby, with a card expressing both our sympathy for our coworker’s loss and joy at the birth her child– telling her that celebrating this new little life seemed all the more important during such a difficult time. And she was touched by the note and gift, so I think we did the right thing.

    So I say, honoring and cherishing the birth of your new baby-family seems all the more important in the face of this loss within your blood-family.

    • L x

      Hi Marie, its L here,

      Thank you for sharing this story. It’s really helped me to see that the opinions of the wedding guests, or in your case the co-worker, is to celebrate joy and also to remember the sadder events. What you did for your co-worker must have made her feel very loved.

      Thank you again,
      L xx

  • Sarah

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    With weddings and funerals, we often get very wrapped up in what other people may think and act on their behalf. It’s a way of trying to manage the thoughts and emotions of other adults in highly stressful situations, which is next to impossible. Yes, there *may* be people who have certain thoughts about the timing of the cards (something you can control) as it relates to the timing of events (something you had no control over). But you don’t know what those thoughts will be. If it means that much to your mother, wait a little bit before sending them out, or send them a few at a time, sending yours out to your friends and leaving a little space before you send them out to your Mom’s people. Your mother’s and your reasoning about the timing doesn’t have to make sense. But you should do what’s best for you two and not worry too much about the other people in the picture. They can and will celebrate you and grieve your father in their own way, card or no card.

    • L x

      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you so much for reminding me that my friends and family will celebrate in their own way. You may be able to tell that I worry a lot about what people think, and you are right that I do not have control over their feelings! You are also right in pointing out that weddings and funerals have lots of similarities….stress and families being the 2 biggest!!

      I hadn’t thought about sending the cards to my friends first, and then to family – that would keep me happy and not get in the way of Mum’s cards.

      Thanks again,

      L xx

  • Jacki

    While I don’t think it’s ever a bad time to say “thanks” – I think Liz gave you a good idea in writing, but saving the cards for a bit (a week? two?) before sending. I don’t think you’ll regret “giving” a little to respect your Mum’s wishes in this case, since you are both grieving. And I’m so sorry for the loss of your Dad.

    • L x

      Hi Jacki

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree, I think I was seeing the whole process of getting the cards, writing and sending as one big task. I really like the idea of writing them and keeping them for a bit, because that will be therapeutic for me too.

      I’m happy now to let Mum send her cards before mine because that is really important to HER feelings and grieving, whereas my concerns about the thank you cards were the GUESTS feelings about me being rude etc. And I put my mum first….a few weeks really won’t make a difference!

      Thank you again,

      L xx

  • I agree with Liz’s advice here, but if you really want to send the thank you notes out now, I think it’s OK too –from an etiquette standpoint, that is. If they get a note from you thanking them for coming to the wedding (and possibly mentioning the flowers they sent for the funeral if that makes sense there) and a card from your mom thanking them for sending flowers, I don’t think they’ll think that’s strange? They are coming from two different people and have to do with two very different events, so I actually don’t see the issue in having some potential crossover.

    That said, it sounds like your mom does see any issue, so it might be worth it not to push it, as Liz suggested.

    • L x

      Hi Rachel,

      Thank you so much for your viewpoint on this. You know, its really beneficial to have a neutral person looking in on the family perspective and just saying it as it is!! I’m in that frame of mind where everything seems so complicated and meshed together. But you are right, the crossover is fine, and I will give Mum the chance to send out her stuff too.

      Thank you again

      L xx

  • copper

    That is rough. Another timing question: a coworker who got married around the same time as we did mentioned to me she was rushing to get thank-you notes out before Christmas, as she thought it was rude to send Christmas cards to people who hadn’t gotten thank-you notes yet. I had every intention of waiting til after the holidays to do ours and hadn’t thought of that! My timing was based on wanting to do a postcard with a wedding photo on the front, and not having gotten our photos back yet, plus having to move house over the holidays. But she does seem to have a point… what says Team Practical? Do I rush to get thank-yous out even if they aren’t the ones I’d originally imagined? Or do I hold off and hope people aren’t offended by not being thanked yet? Or do I just not even send holiday cards so that they don’t notice??

    • Catherine McK

      I vote for holding off! It sounds like you have a lot on your plate, and in general I think people are pretty understanding when it comes to wedding thank you timing. (My bar = receiving some sort of card that says, “Thanks!” at some point, hopefully within 6 months) Plus your postcard idea is cute! And it will be much more fun to write them on something you love.

    • Terry

      I’m kind of a thank-you stickler (we got ours out within three weeks). So I vote that you pick up a pack of cute but generic cards and get them out now. I’d rather get a prompt thank you than a photo card, and you can use the photos for our Christmas cards if you’d like.

    • Amy March

      My vote is send them now, asap. I dislike the trend of letting thank you cards linger for a photo. As a guest, I want a thank you fairly quickly, so I’m sure that you got my gift.

      • Tina M

        This! I attended a wedding Oct. 12 and I went off-registry for the gift. I put a candle in a bag and cash in a card, the card in the bag with the candle… The candle was just so the card didn’t get lost. I haven’t received a thank you, though the bride has been publicly thanking some people via facebook for their gifts (opinions on that are for a completely different thread). Now I’m wondering, did all that cash get lost in the ether??

        • copper

          It probably did not—my wedding date was October 12th as well. Since that time, I’ve gone on honeymoon, tried to get back to working an appropriate amount so I don’t get canned, adopted a pet, and launched an apartment hunt. Even Miss Manners says you have up to a year for thank you notes, so until the conversation with this coworker I frankly had not worried too much about them because I knew I was well within the boundaries still.

          Another thing that has come to mind with cash or check gifts is that we’re not spending them until said new apartment gets moved into, and it would be really nice to be able to say, “Thanks so much for helping us furnish our new place! We got an _______ and will be thinking of you when we use it.” Maybe the couple has a similar thought and wants to be able to write a specific thank you related to your gift?

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We invited over 200 people to our wedding and had about 80 attend. Our thank-yous were all done about 4 weeks after the wedding. We worked on them as gifts arrived before the wedding. Personally, I think if all your thank-yous aren’t out within 2 months after the wedding, there’s a problem with your system. (You waited too long to start; you’re letting “perfectly” thoughtful notes be the enemy of “good enough” notes – etc.; barring something unforeseen like an illness)

      I’d question the bride who takes the time to assemble and address holiday cards before completing her thank-yous. The thank-yous, being an etiquette requirement, take priority over holiday cards, which are not required. You could combine all the elements – write thank-yous on your photo holiday cards; save time and postage. I wouldn’t be offended, exactly, if someone did things “out of order.” I’ve been the “victim” of all sorts of wedding etiquette mistakes (very late thank-yous; save-the-date but no invitation, etc.), and haven’t let it interfere with the friendships. I know how tricky this stuff is.

      Be sure whatever you send notes the address change.

      • copper

        Redacted. I’ll just say, you’re sounding pretty judgy here. Not really what I expected from APW.

    • Alison O

      In general, as the range of responses here suggests, I think it’s probably a “know your crowd” thing. If I were your crowd, you could pretty much do whatever you want, and if I liked you enough to come to your wedding, I’d still like you just as much. :-) Depending on which is more influential on the timing of the thank you cards–1) wanting to do the wedding photo postcard because it’s fun, or 2) lack of time until the new year–here are a couple ideas:

      If it’s more about not wanting to give up the postcard idea, can you save that idea for a change of address announcement (and on that you could also reiterate any name changes or lack thereof, whether you want Ms. or Mrs., etc.), since you said you’re moving? That way you can send your thank you’s sooner, which I think is preferable if it is possible. I saw that Emily Post recommends sending thank you’s within 3 months, as opposed to a year as I’ve heard elsewhere.

      If lack of time is more the factor… Do you plan to send holiday cards to all of the guests you need to thank, or just some of them? If it’s just some, maybe you could combine the holiday card with a thank you for those folks. The rest of the gift givers (to whom you are not sending a holiday card) could then get the thank you postcard once you get it made (and it wouldn’t hurt to send it as a “thanks again” to the people you’d already thanked in holiday cards, especially if it will reflect a change of address). I do think it would be a little odd to send a Christmas note that doesn’t acknowledge the gift, sort of like if I were to send my friend a really nice care package, and after it arrives she texts me, “Want to come over for cocktails Friday?” I would not be offended, and I’d appreciate her reaching out, but I would wonder if she’d received the package and whether I should ask about it directly, which can feel awkward for both parties.

      To your point elsewhere about wanting to be able to tell people who gave you money what you spent it on, I think it is just as appropriate and heartfelt to tell people what you are thinking of spending it on, rather than waiting to actually spend it. “Thank you for the generous gift! Spouse and I are thrilled to graduate to non-college furniture in our new place, and with your support I think we’ll be able to invest in some lovely pieces that will stand the test of time.” You can even tailor the thing you say you’re planning to buy to the person based on their own interests, if they intersect with yours somehow, like if you’re planning to buy a lawn-mower, and you’re thanking Aunt Joan who happens to be an avid gardener.

  • Pamela

    I’m so sorry for your loss!
    I don’t think it’s a problem to respect your Mom’s wishes…if people are kind (as they should be) they’ll know that you’ve had a lot on your plate and won’t judge the timing.
    As far as mentioning your Dad in your wedding thank yous – I say do it if it feels appropriate/genuine – something like “watching you dance with my Dad was a beautiful moment I won’t forget, and I’m so glad you were there to celebrate with our family” or similar. Don’t feel like you have to, but if you want to, why not? I think people would appreciate it. And also, thank yous that come from the heart always read better than the ones where you’re obviously struggling to find something to say (although no judgement from me on the struggling – I’ve written my share of formulaic thank yous too!!).

    • L x

      Hi Pamela,

      Thank you for your insights in to the practical side of writing the cards and the content. You’ve reminded me not to lose sight of the reason for writing these cards – it is a genuine appreciation and should be as genuine as having a chat with them!

      I like to write from the heart, and I now realise that whether I mention Dad or not isn’t the major point of the card.

      Thank you so much,

      L xx

  • L x

    Dear Everyone (L here!),

    Thank you for taking the time to read, and so generously offer your advice. I am so touched, as always, by the kindness of previous ‘strangers’ but now friends at heart.

    Liz – thank you so much for addressing the emotions that I have been feeling. I can tell you are well experienced in these matters and you’ve helped me to see options. Like appreciation and grief at the same time is OK! Options are difficult to see in such a stressful emotional time, and you’ve given me hope. It’s lovely to read that events and emotions can’t negate each other. It’s something that has constantly been on my mind, especially with my Mum as well.

    My next step that i now WANT to take, is to order the cards, and just start writing. It will tell me a lot about how I feel. I hope you can see that even though my question was about thank you cards, you have helped me to deal with my emotions regarding both events, and I hope this will be of some comfort to other readers as well.

    Sincerely, thank you and God bless xxxx

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