I thought they were like birthday messages on Facebook. Reflexive, pointless, stock phrases empty of meaningful emotion and connection. I always pictured the exchange like this:
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thanks.” Do I even know you?
Or like this:
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“I will.” But unless you can return the dead to life, there isn’t.
Whenever they passed a card around the office, I’d stare at it for a while, trying to pick which empty phrase to write. It embarrassed me to be part of something so pointless. Stop trying to come up with a new take on my thoughts are with your family and let the person grieve.
Then Dad died.
And I learned that those words do help. Sometimes they truly do come from the heart. Sometimes they really are the vacuous social fluff I suspected. But they help either way.
Because really, there’s nothing TO say when someone has been lost. It sucks. That about covers it. It sucks hard if he was a constant force for good in your life, if he was your inspiration, your hero. What can a pithy few words accomplish in the face of that sudden void?
They can help. A tiny point of light won’t illuminate the darkness, but it can’t be ignored. It reminds you that the speaker is still in your life, and that they care. Maybe they only care enough to say the words. Maybe you know you can count on them for more. But they do care, and that helps.
Don’t be arrogant enough to think you’ll find the words that will make things okay. But don’t be embarrassed that you won’t. And whatever you do, don’t stay silent.
Words do help.