Originally published April 26, 2015
As a freshly minted widow I am suddenly thrown into the world of public grieving. As a caregiver you grieve, but it is a more private process. An ever present minor chord in your life. The missing of someone there—but not. This, however is different. Now, as I go through the motions of dealing with the many, many tasks that must be completed to wind up my husband’s affairs, to manage the last bits of a move, and to somehow find a guiding star to lead me forward, I must deal with the public acknowledgement that he is gone. No longer a physical presence in my life.
My life is filled with landmines. Little memories that explode in my face as I hear a song on the radio—unpack a box that was packed before I knew he would not be with me—wake up in the night alone—talk to people who knew us, or him, or me. Memories. Memories that refuse to remain “pressed between the pages of my mind.” At least not yet.
This adjusting, this “moving forward,” this, “getting on with things” is something so many have managed with varying degrees of success for millennia. However, as my friends and followers know, I can’t leave anything alone until I pick it apart for myself.
So, I already have a pet peeve. “First, let us offer our condolences for your loss.” Really? You are a bank/credit card company or whatever business/legal connection on my list of “things that must be done.” Unless you are truly concerned about my specific loss, or you have some personal, genuine feeling for what that loss may mean, then please, perhaps you can find some other way to express whatever feelings you think you should have. Really.
When did we become a society that rattles off meaningless commentary because, well, it’s on the disclosure sheet in front of you? How about, “We understand this may be a difficult time for you and so we have established ways to take care of requirements as efficiently as possible.” Or, “We are in no position to know what this loss may mean for you so we will make this as easy as we can.”
For some reason I have developed a peculiar cringe when complete strangers express their “sorrow.” This may come from my personal philosophy on the whole concept of “I’m sorry.” My dear departed husband and I had many a discussion about the phrase. It always irritated me. I sincerely felt that a person should not use “I’m sorry” unless they made a personal contribution to the situation, or said person was in a position to truly have some level of empathy. Or, they actually meant it. “I’m sorry,” in my world, was supposed to mean something. Condolences, of course, is a word that wraps up sorrow into a specific situation. All the more personal. It’s all part of that family of “I know how you feel.”
No, I’m sorry, you may know something close, and from that we can both benefit. But, please, don’t rattle off platitudes just to make yourself feel useful.
Maybe I’m being over-reactive. But somehow I feel that if we persist in the easy, boilerplate responses to the heartache around us we can maintain the delusion that “we did our part.” Don’t ever avoid approaching someone who has suffered loss—don’t hide from the pain. I know it’s hard to think of something to say, but sometimes it really doesn’t take much. Even a call in the middle of day to see how a person is doing. An offer to mow the yard, wash the car, have a bite to eat. Or, an offer to provide the information necessary to wrap up one more item on the endless list of things that must be done.
You don’t have to know someone well to be “real,” but you do have to take the time to be human and to find in yourself genuine responses to the hurt and suffering around you. Let’s start a revolution. No more soundbites. What do you think?