People who are never completely forgotten, never completely die.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant
Breakfast: Yogurt and
The Elegant Gathering
TODAY ON TV
WHAT TO SAY...
2 June 2004
The wise man of Dairyland, Denver Doug and his wife Heather have lost their youngest son to cancer. My heart aches for them.
There are lots of people on the Internet who have come to love Doug for his gentle wisdom, his complete devotion to his family, his reflections over his life, and his comments on the current world situation, as well as his support of so many of us when we are suffering pain, or when we need some encouragement, or a pat on the back for a job well done.
All of us now sit around, trying to find the words to say, knowing that nothing is "quite right," but wanting to be there for Doug, as he has been for all of us through the years.
Our culture does not teach us about how to handle death. We can find books on just about everything, but we feel helpless to know what to say to someone who has just suffered a loss.
It was too difficult for some people to contact us in any way after David died. Those were the people who would turn quickly in the other direction when they saw me at the supermarket. I always felt bad about that. My friend Joan, who lost both her husband and her son in a house fire many years ago, took the bull by the horns when such a thing happened to her. She would go home and call the person, say something like "I just missed you at the supermarket today," and then work to make them feel comfortable so they would not feel awkward the next time they met.
We learned a lot about what to do--and not do--after Davids death. So many people were amazingly kind and we were so grateful. Some went overboard, determined to do all they could to help us feel better. The truth of the matter was that nothing would make us feel better and the people we appreciated the most were those who expressed their sympathy and, if they knew David (or Paul), shared a memory of him, and then moved on. But we appreciated all expressions of sympathy.
The real truth about grieving people is that all that is necessary is to say "Im so sorry..." To reach out and express sadness at the pain they are feeling. In truth, the blanket of pain may be wrapped so tightly around you that the words dont actually register, but the act of reaching out to someone in pain, however ineffectual you feel your words are going to be, is an act of kindness which helps immeasurably as the family attempts to cope with the loss.
There is always the temptation to ask "what can I do?" or say "call me if you need anything." In truth, when you are struggling to put one foot in front of another, its just too much work to think of a job for someone wanting to help.
We had a handful of people who were invaluable. There was Lynn, who announced "Ill be there tonight" and flew in from Texas, surveyed the scene and took over cleaning up the house so we would feel comfortable when people stopped by. Kendra coordinated food for the first week after Pauls death and Jessica never asked, she just showed up with the food, looked around at what needed to be done, and did it. We didnt always know what she was doing--she just did it.
At a time when we didnt know what we needed, they did and didnt ask--they just did it.
After Davids death, Larry and others worked behind the scenes to coordinate meals for us for two months. Every night some wonderful person or persons would show up at the door with our dinner. It was a monumental bit of organization that we werent even aware of. All we had to do was open the door each night.
Larry and many others also took over feeding the people who turned up for the memorial services. We let people know when and where the services would be held and then all we had to do was show up--the place had been set up and there was more than enough food for all the people who wanted to come.
So if youre wondering what you can do, what you can say, when someone you love is in pain, know that anything is better than nothing and the extent of your involvement will be dictated by how close you feel to the family. One doesnt need to make any grand gesture or have the magic words that are going to make it all better. A simple "Im so sorry" will be greatly appreciated by the grieving family. It lets them know you care.
And at a time of great pain, you can make a great difference if you simply show that you care.