When the parent of a friend of mine died recently, my immediate thought was to write a note of condolence. There was a time when I had handy a little box of ivory, blank notes with only my name printed in the first page. The rest was up to me. Today there is always the temptation to send my thoughts on a commercial card, pre-decorated with lilies and such, as well as a quick poem or saying. But, I had been brought up by mother, who was backed up by my home economics teacher, to write by hand, preferably with black ink, my thoughts about the deceased and his or her contributions. I may have barely known the person who died; it’s the living that I owe an example of my good upbringing. As will my children when they sit down and ponder what would be memorable and appreciated in a note..

On absolutely no account might one fulfill this obligation via E-Mail, although it sure is tempting.

Did you know you could look up sample thoughts for almost any event for inspiration? Like “I’m so sorry so-and-so flunked out of college. It was quite a surprise, as he appeared to be relatively intelligent. But think of all the money you’ll save. Best wishes…..”

Another occasion where a handwritten note is absolutely imperative is the time-honored Thank you note. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could type up a standard thanks and then just cut and paste the name of donor, along with mentioning the actual gift, on a basic document. There again are samples on the Web: Thanks so much for the wedding gift of a set of steak knives. I hope they last longer than the marriage did. (I actually received that very note).

When my father was in the military during WWII my mother decreed that we should write to him every day, as she did. There were a lot of “How are you. I am fine’’ letters. Today I see on the news children talking on the phone to their parents in the service while showing off some project in school or a new haircut. And the parent is half a world away in a country I’ve barely heard of.

But, getting back to correspondence in the age of the computer. On-line obituaries offer a place where you can write a few lines, touch base, or order flowers, without ever picking up a pen or licking a stamp. However, I can still hear my mother, “Did you write to so-and-so yet?” It’s bad form to get that note in the mail after more than four weeks.

So I’ll check the obits in the paper or the on-line funeral notices, and depending on the degree of familiarity with those left behind, I’ll get out my ivory paper and black pen and try to come up with original thoughts of condolences that I haven’t used too many times before.