Thursday, May 17, 2007

29. 'I am so sorry for your loss'

People who have never suffered the loss of a loved one are often at a loss in the face of those who have. What do you say? What do you do? You don’t want to say the wrong thing. You don’t want to make them cry.

But if you have never suffered a loss, you don’t understand. Sometimes crying is healing. And "making someone cry"” shouldn’t be something you fear. The reality is that you can’t "make someone cry." You can only touch them in a way that tears and sadness are evoked. This is not a bad thing.

But if you have never suffered a loss, you don’t know this.

Years ago, I worked with a woman – knew her professionally, nothing more – who had lost her only daughter in a heinous crime. Murdered.

I had never experienced loss beyond a beloved pet. My reaction to her loss? I avoided her if I saw her coming my way. Avoided looking at her. Avoided being where she was. Avoided contact. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.

But after I lost Gregory, everything changed. I sought her out. Sat down and had a conversation with her. Suddenly, I knew what to say. And the first thing I said was, “I am so sorry for your loss.” I apologized for my lack of contact. God bless her, she understood and accepted my apology so gracefully. We talked our about mutual losses, and the air was clean between us.

So let’s say you are that person who has never experienced a loss and doesn’t know what to say.

Here is "What to Say 101."

Whether you know a person well or are just an acquaintance, I am here to tell you that the seven most powerful words in the English language are these: “I am so sorry for your loss.” Period.

When a person has suffered the loss of a loved one – a truly loved one, a child, a close parent, a spouse, a life partner, even, yes, a beloved pet – those are the most powerful words you can speak.

Did I say speak? You must do more than speak them. You must mean them. From the bottom of your heart.

It becomes easier with time.

Not long ago, my car inspection was due. I pulled into a service station where I’d had a good experience with a flat tire back when Gregory was alive. The owner and I got to talking. He was a gentleman about my age. He explained that he had been an executive in a restaurant chain California, but that a divorce had wiped him out. He came to Dallas to start a new life. Oh, and he had lost his only son in Iraq the summer before.

He wasn’t mope-y or maudlin. He was just sharing the circumstances of his life. I looked at him and said, “I am so sorry for your loss.” And I was. How terrible to lose your only son. He looked at me, and he said, “Thank you.”

And that was it. Just like the Christmas dinner, where we “widows” dipped into our mutual grief, this man and I shared a moment. Connected for a moment. This is grief as its most powerful and basic: connecting with another human, understanding a loss.

Then, my inspection was done. And I was on my way.

Image by Vladimir Kush


Blogger girlysmack said...

Thank you for this post because I never know what to say.

I am sorry for your loss. Mario, I am sorry for your loss, too.

But I am so happy for you two and what you have found.

11:38 AM  

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