“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not. I hate if they do, and if they don't.” - A Grief Observed
Grief will flummox the most eloquent. When our friends hurt, all we want is to stand beside them and show them they’re not alone, and somehow words always seem to tumble out. But how can you possibly find the “right words” when the reality of death and suffering is so very wrong? The attempt is bound to result in some flubs, yet silence is hard to manage.
After my mom passed away recently, just a couple weeks before her 53rd birthday, I’ve suddenly found myself on the receiving end of sympathy. People have approached me with amazing love and kindness, so very well-intentioned and wanting so badly to help. I appreciate the sentiment so much—the simple acknowledgement that life is irreversibly different is more helpful than you can imagine. And yet, the expression has sometimes made me shake my head. There’s sometimes a hilariously wide difference between the intention and the bizarre outpouring.
I’m sure many people are simply clueless, as I was before this paradigm shift. So I’m cataloguing a few of the well-intentioned-but-not-so-helpful things people have said for the sake of building empathy. If this helps floundering friends speak comfort a little more readily, then sharing is worth it.
With that in mind, here's a short catalog of some common, very well-intentioned comments I've received... and why I've cocked my head at the people who utter them.