One of the benefits of surviving a trial is the wisdom that should accompany it. At least for me, I like to impart the little nuggets of inspiration I’ve accumulated. Share the wealth and lighten the load type of philosophy. I thought by now the whole soothsaying, warm heart, nurturing side of me would have kicked in and I’d know just what to do to offer comfort. In other words, I thought I’d be more like my mom by now.
Turns out, I’m not quite there yet. But I have learned a few things.
What do you say?
I don’t know if I will ever use the phrase “It gets better.” Which, I know, it is a perfectly good statement. It’s supposed to offer hope and reassurance. But when I heard it, a knot of bitterness swelled up inside me. In fact, I perceived condescension when one person assured me with it. Probably not true, but that’s how I felt. True, handling the grief probably will get better, but it’s only been 100 days since my mom died. Let me feel the grief today. Or maybe what bothered me was the word “it.” As I expressed earlier this week, what’s the “it” that’s going to get better? The separation will not get easier but maybe I will be able to handle it better. This taught me one valuable lesson: specificity is required when consoling.
Years ago I met a woman who had lost her father when she was young. She told the account with practiced ease and showed little emotion. This was the first person I had encountered with such a sad story and I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled awkwardly.
“It’s okay,” she said and smiled politely. “It wasn’t your fault.”
I felt like I had said the wrong thing. In fact, I probably offered up the “It will get better” expression after that. But after being on the receiving end of sympathies, I’ve come to appreciate a simple, “I’m sorry.” The word sorry is too often associated only with being apologetic even though it also means sympathetic. It’s too bad the English language doesn’t have a warm word specifically for expressing sympathy. That is, besides the very formal, non-warm word “condolence.” Until I do find the perfect word, “sorry” will work for me.
Depending on the level of adversity, I might add, “Just hold on. The light will come.” It’s from a Michael McLean song you can listen to here. It’s one of those songs that I wish I would have written because I could have. At least, as far as the concept goes. This might sound similar to the “It gets better” advice but for me it’s slightly different. Whereas, one is a general statement offered as a blanket, the other is acknowledging the current difficult time. Hold on during your dark day of grief because the time will come when the light of peace and understanding can rest your weary soul. Just hold on and don’t let go no matter what.
Just say something
I hope I didn’t make it sound complicated. It’s not. The important thing is to let the other person know you’re aware of his or her hard time. I appreciated the “It gets better” sentiment more than the quiet treatment. True, I may not want to discuss every detail with every person. But I’ve kept track of each person who expressed some form of kindness to me. I didn’t realize I was doing it. It wasn’t until the smoke had cleared that I became aware of my mental list.
Never underestimate the power of touch
Touch became very important to me the last month of my mom’s life. I stroked her hair, held her hand, kissed her cheek, and rubbed her sore legs as much as I could. All this was done to provide comfort to her. It wasn’t until she passed that I realized I also needed human contact.
Due to my quiet personality, I am perceived as a non-hugger. When in fact, I come from a very touchy-huggy family. I love hugs even if I don’t initiate them. I received one of my all-time best hugs when I walked into the Young Women room the following Sunday after mom’s funeral. One of the girls – one that I never would have expected this from – said, “Sister Lee.” And gave me a big hug. She too, comes across as a non-hugger. I appreciated her gesture more than she will ever realize.
In the end, all I’ve learned is that there isn’t a “one-size fits all” sympathy. Some people might appreciate the “It gets better,” adage more than the “I’m sorry,” expression. Each situation is different. Reaching out and letting someone know he or she is not alone no matter how it feels at the moment is the important thing. And, no, I’m not perfect. I’m still practicing.