Sometimes, condolences seem false – it doesn’t matter if they are written in greeting cards or posted on Facebook or spoken to try to ease the discomfort of the speaker at not knowing what to say.
I wonder what condolences would look like if we took advice from Shakespeare’s King Lear:
“The weight of this sad time we must obey.
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”
I am not suggesting that anyone sends a card to someone grieving inscribed with “Better you than me.”
I wonder if a blank card would convey the silence some tragedies demand and the presence we wish to offer to others.
A friend of some friends died of cancer the other day. I read some of the comments posted, and one irked me: “God decided he needed another good man at his side.” What? No! I never understand how those words, or phrases like them, are supposed to bring comfort to people grieving.
I would rather hear – “Ugh, that’s awful.”
Sometimes I think that it would be better to say nothing than to speak falsely.
For all that we can communicate and articulate with language, language still is limited in conveying the extent of our thoughts and feelings well. For example, in English the saying “I’m Sorry” carries two primary meanings – the first an apology for a wrong, and the second to convey sorrow. Yet when it is used in the second instance, a response sometimes follows of, “well, it wasn’t you’re fault.” (and I wonder if this is possibly either misunderstood or an attempt from the griever to deflect the gravity of the situation.)
In Albanian, two separate sayings exist for the primary circumstances when English uses “I’m Sorry.” One saying is for an apology of a wrongdoing. The other phrase, literally translated as “I see the bad,” is used upon hearing bad, tragic, or other unpleasant news from someone.
I like this phrase. Simple, truthful, to the point. I wish I could use it in other language contexts. “I see the bad” does not attempt to wash away the pain easily or quickly; it does not attempt to make things okay before they are okay. Instead, “I see the bad” can convey a level of sympathy and, possibly, empathy. “I see the bad” can offer presence rather than an answer.
This phrase (and other truthful phrases like it) also remind those offering the condolences that the story of the loss is not theirs, rather it is of those grieving.
The people grieving are already dealing with difficult circumstances, and the last thing they need is to use energy to sift through a lot of sentimental, yet hollow words.
I wonder how our lives and interactions with others would change, and I wonder if we would be transformed by naming our thoughts and feelings – even if that “speaking” is silence or tears.
I wonder if we would enter into deeper relationships with people because we offered vulnerable words and selves to those made vulnerable because of grieving.