What to say

Having (in an eight year period) lost both of my parents, a close aunt and uncle, my dog, four jobs, my husband and had cancer, I’ve frequently been on the receiving end of friends trying to offer support. Most of whom had no idea what to say. Many found the right, at least good, words. A few did not. I forgave any gaffs very quickly, and honestly, maybe because I was too self-absorbed at the particular moment, but don’t really recall anything specific to use as an example. I’m certainly not in the position to be judgmental either. I know I haven’t always said the right thing or have had what I was trying to say be perceived all wrong. So no judgement.

So what IS the “right” thing to say? It might actually depend on who’s on the receiving end. So it’s kind of tricky. I think the best thing people said to me after my husband’s sudden and tragic death was simply to admit, “I am without words.” They were acknowledging me and the severity of my loss. Sometimes it’s not that obvious and it’s our tendency to offer condolences that include a pep talk about survival. Survival is, of course, a goal, but regardless of the loss, struggle or disappointment, everyone needs to first be acknowledged. Just a few weeks ago I said something really stupid to someone when I knew two seconds later, I simply should have said, “I imagine that’s really difficult for you.”

So acknowledge the loss. And then realize everyone needs time to grieve. Then and only then can we begin to focus on our future. I came across this article recently and shared it on Facebook…

Author Tim Lawrence says, “I am here — I have lived — because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me and alongside me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes. Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is. Healing and transformation can occur. But not if you’re not allowed to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.”

Read the full article here: http://www.upworthy.com/8-simple-words-to-say-when-when-someone-you-love-is-grieving

It’s a powerful piece. Yeah. Platitudes suck. I think “everything happens for a reason” can only be said by the person going through it and is never appropriate when someone dies. Who could possibly think that someone had to lose their life for another to experience growth? I know after a job loss, when I get a new job and come to the conclusion I’m better off, I might say that for myself. I know I have. I hope I’ve never said it to someone else. People need to reach their own conclusions about what brought them to personal growth.

I have always hated “god doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” WTF? Seventeen years of Catholic school and I was never taught about a god like that. A lot of people told me “you are so strong.” I wasn’t offended by it. I know they meant it as an acknowledgment and something positive, but I really didn’t feel strong. I just felt like I didn’t have a choice. And in a way, by telling me I was strong made me feel weaker when I was privately losing it; like I wasn’t living up to everyone’s expectations. But again, I understood they meant well. I didn’t hold it against anyone.

I also came across this piece recently, and if there was ever a perfect thing to say, this is probably it:

“Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky. You’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

The full response: http://www.thatericalper.com/2015/08/16/person-is-asking-for-advice-hn-how-to-deal-with-grief-this-reply-is-incredible/

Nothing is trivial. Losing my dog was almost as painful as losing the people in my life. Here’s another piece worth sharing:

“Research comparing grief over the death of pets to that over the death of friends and family members has come up with different answers. A 2002 article in the journal Society & Animals that reviewed multiple studies found that the death of a companion animal can be “just as devastating as the loss of a human significant other,” not quite as severe, “far more intense” or, well, just about the same.”

Read the full article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-death-of-pet-can-hurt-as-much-as-the-loss-of-a-relative/2012/02/21/gIQALXTXcS_story.html

Yeah. Grief is a necessary process. So sometimes the best thing you can say is often nothing at all. Be the shoulder someone needs to cry on. Be that listening ear. And just listen. Acknowledge and try to empathize.

IMG_4780Piermont, NY, August 2016

One thought on “What to say

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.