Day Sixteen: The Right Words/Advice

Don't do it!

A friend of mine sent me an email yesterday and apologized for not saying the right things, not giving me the words of comfort that she thought I needed. This is what I told her.

The truth is that there are no right words. Personally, I would rather you buy a card, sign your name, and send it to me. Then I know that you know my Mom died and we can get on with our lives. A canned response to a surreal predicament. Sometimes if you try to seek out those perfect words of comfort, all you end up doing is sounding like an idiot. (And when I say "you" I am NOT talking directly to my friend who can never sound like an idiot.)

I know. I used to be that person going through the thesaurus. I have another friend who lost his wife over two years ago. When he called to let us know of her passing, I tried to sound wise and comforting, but instead stumbled over half-uttered syllables. The words choked me and I felt like a fool. And now that I know what it's like to lose someone, I know how he felt on the other side of the phone. He was embarrassed for me, a little angry that I was trying to comfort him when words were useless, and desperately trying to end the conversation.

When a person is experiencing a loss so fresh that he or she still thinks about what they were doing "just yesterday", or "just last week", or "a month ago" in relation to the deceased, then the question "how are you doing?" seems extremely stupid. Because you know the answer. Better to say, "I was thinking of you" and that's it. There shouldn't be any attempts to delve into the matter, try to give the person the opportunity to rant or cry. There is an unreasonable anger at the world in general, and that world includes you. Despite whatever you might have been to this person before the loss.

I have friends who've mentioned that they have lost a loved one. A mother. A father. A sister. A brother. A daughter. A wife. They understand and keep their distance, but in a loving way. They understand that the world I'm mad at also includes them, because they aren't sad or angry like me anymore. They know that one day, hopefully sooner than later, the absence of my Mom won't hurt as much, that the love for her I still hold inside me won't burn my skin. And I'll give them a call. And we can finally go for a walk, or get a cup of coffee, or see our favorite band play, or grab a drink in the city.

Finding the right words doesn't matter. Allowing your friend to go on a "sabbatical" does matter. And when she does reach out, just be yourself.