So there you are, sitting in the middle of the most mind-shattering confusion you’ve ever faced, wondering what the hell just happened, and trying to figure out what to do next. And somehow, through this intense fog that has filled your mind, you notice people talking to you, saying things that don’t make a lot of sense. Part of you wishes they would just shut up and go away. Part of you wishes they could just say the right thing to fix it all for you. And a small part of you actually tries to laugh at some of the super-crazy that comes at you when crazy has become your norm.
People want to help. They truly, honestly, want to help you. But except for the rare insightful empath who’s been through something very similar to what you’re going through now, everyone else will likely get it not quite right. Probably even wrong. Often, ridiculously wrong.
I had a gentleman approach me during our visitation and found myself consoling him as he described in great detail exactly how terribly broken his wife was over my husband’s death, certain that she would never feel that way about him. Not once in the 23 years I spent with my husband had I ever doubted his fidelity; in fact, I had the dubious advantage of unexpected access to every nook and cranny of his personal life after he passed. I, therefore, had no idea how to connect with this poor guy – my spouse’s world revolved around me. His spouse’s world, apparently revolved around my husband. Of course, the ideal time to have that conversation is in the visitation line at the funeral home while hundreds of people wait patiently in line to speak to me.
Anyway, the point is, everyone wants to say something. Everyone wants to say something meaningful. Most will fall short.
As will your responses. People say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” We respond with, “Thank you.” I’ve found it to be one of the most ridiculous conversations I’ve ever had. And this one’s on permanent replay.
Instead, though, what I try to do, what I try to make time for, is a real conversation. I don’t care if I’m at the gas station, the kids’ badminton tournament, a public bathroom; if someone expresses their condolences, I try to engage them.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. How are you doing?” With the cascade of pity through the ‘doing.’
I deflect quite artistically now, a simple nod to acknowledge the sentiment, and the kind heart behind it, and respond by asking about their grief, their journey, their memories.
It’s an entirely different experience to tap into someone else’s grief over your loss. But it accomplishes two very gratifying advantages.
First, it lets you remember your love in a way you didn’t have access to before. You may learn something new about them. You may be able to connect this person’s event to something that you remember. You will create a new memory of your loved one, even after they’re gone.
And secondly, it lets you remember without crushing you in public. By reliving the other person’s memory with them, you are one step removed from it, and can still go there, usually with a little more composure than your own vault of painful stories allows. Add to that the fact that you end up supporting this person through their grief, and, while it’s likely not as all-consuming as yours, it is very real to them. And that connection brings the two of you closer in the name of your loss. Something good from the bad.
No matter what people say to you, do try to remember that they mean well. And the ones that don’t get it right, and better yet, the ones who get it terribly wrong, will make for entertaining memories one day, when you’re ready.