Expressing sympathy isn’t rocket science

After the death of my infant grandson in December 2016, my husband’s tragic death on April 30th of this year, followed seven weeks later by my mother’s death, my family has been the recipient of both kind and what are really thoughtless comments from people who are trying to express their sympathies. My friends shared some of the best, and worst, things said to them during times of grief, and several have asked me to compile them. This doesn’t begin to include everything that we, or others grieving, have heard. I’ve tried to categorize them.

Comments based on faith

  • God needed another angel
  • S/he is in a better place
  • God has a plan
  • You should have prayed more (said by a minister to the widow)

These comments dismiss the tremendous grief being experienced with a simple solution of faith. It also assumes that all people involved share the same set of beliefs. Don’t ever assume identical beliefs, even if the grieving person sits next to you in your place of worship. As for the angel comment, if your children/spouse/friends are all safely at home at the end of the day, who are you to say any deity needed their loved person as another angel?

To grieving parents

  • You are young enough to have more children
  • At least you didn’t have her/him so long that you were strongly attached (said to parents of recently adopted children)
  • At least you have other children

    To grieving spouses
  • You are reasonably attractive and can get married again (said by a mother-in-law to the widow)
  • You’ll meet someone else
  • You have plenty of time to marry again

Death related to an illness

  • Did s/he smoke? When did they quit?
  • S/he should have gone to a different doctor
  • Why didn’t s/he go to the doctor sooner?
  • They should have exercised, eaten better, etc.

Death due to a tragic accident

  • People shouldn’t ride bikes there
  • Did s/he suffer?
  • May be if they had been with you instead of……

This list could go on forever because there seems to be no limit on thoughtless things people let come out of their mouths.

There are things to say (and do) that are helpful.

  • I am so very sorry. Expressing sympathy doesn’t require rocket science or an advanced degree. This simple statement is fine.
  • I don’t know what you are feeling but I want to support you
  • Would it help if I sleep on the sofa in case you need someone to talk to during the night?
  • I will miss spending time with ______. I’d like to share some stories with you when you are ready (and then follow up, accepting responses of “Not now but later” and then checking again).
  • Can I walk the dog? Cut the grass? Pick up things at the drug store? Go to the cleaners? Get your car serviced? Are there foods your family would like to have right now? Write thank you notes? Make calls? Return books to the library?
  • Say the person’s name.  Don’t be afraid to mention a lost loved one when you speak to someone grieving.  Share or listen to a thought or story about his or her lost loved one.  Take the time to really engage.

After the immediacy of the services have passed, check-in with the grieving. Ask about birthday and special family anniversaries so you can offer support or an invitation. Send a postcard or note with a simple message saying you are thinking about them. Take them a meal. Only offer to do things if you can follow up-really. And those offers don’t have to be huge-coffee, lunch, a movie. Did the grieving person go to plays, concerts, art shows, etc. with the person who has died? Find those events and invite them because you know they did those things together.

As we mark the year’s last holidays, there will be many hard firsts for my family, and hard moments (or days and weeks) for those whose grief is not immediate but still real. A college friend called and left me a message saying that she was thinking about me as we approach these firsts, and she wanted to let me know.

Her message was beautiful in its simplicity and sincerity. And it was just what I needed.

What I’m reading about last night

What I’m reading about last night (link to the address is below from the New York Times):

WAPo: “In describing his bleak vision of a ruined United States exploited by foreigners, Mr. Trump wrote a series of checks he almost certainly cannot cash.”

The ugliest moment in the 60-minute address came when Mr. Trump announced the formation of an office on “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” and then introduced families of people allegedly murdered by illegal immigrants. It was an appeal to raw prejudice and fear that will do nothing to promote the national unity he claims to be seeking. (emphasis added)

WAPO: Fact checking demonstrates that Trump continues to take credit for things he didn’t do, including the sourcing for DAPL pipeline materials

WaPo: Why any glow from last night won’t last very long

WaPo: The word you didn’t hear last night

NYT: Video of the address to Congress and NYT Washington correspondents comments and analysis during the speech and the Democratic response

NYT: Did Bannon and Miller talk Trump away from a pivot on immigration during lunch yesterday?

NYT: Five takeaways from last night’s speech

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution on pouring money into the military,
“In short, this is not a carefully thought-out strategy from the Trump administration, based on consultation with the experts and our allies. Instead, the man who took five draft deferments to avoid fighting in Vietnam, the man who says that he knows better than the generals how to defeat ISIS and who claims he understands the military because he attended a military-themed boarding school, is offering a military strategy fueled largely by his own deep personal insecurities.”

Breaking bread in a mosque

The Friday Photo
January 27, 2016

photo from the internet

Heeding the observation a wise friend shared with me the day after last year’s election, I am making a concerted effort to desegregate what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the most segregated hour” in our country. In November I visited the church just a block down the street from my house, a congregation established by former slaves not too many years after the end of the Civil War.

Last Friday, along with my husband and a friend, I attended the monthly community dinner at the Islamic Center of Macon. All three of us were warmly greeted and welcomed for the evening. My friend and I joined the women on their side of the partitioned room, where younger children played and roamed freely from our side to the one where the men gathered. . There were prayers, a practice round for a children’s quiz competition, and wonderful food.

Environmental advocacy connected all of us during dinner conversations. Our concerns ranged from food resources, clean water, and ways that the women we shared a meal with could be active in stewardship. In turn, we were invited to participate and support an interfaith women’s organization in Macon, and of course, to return again to join them.

The mosque where we gathered was vandalized in December 2015. When funds are secured they will relocated to a larger facility better suited for their needs. For now, on the edge of a neighborhood in the early stages of gentrification, just blocks from larger affluent Christian churches, faithful and peace-loving Muslims gather every week to worship, and when visitors appear, they open their arms to hug them as most welcome guests.