that’s a hot shots reference. stupid, i know. i mean no disrespect but humour helps me deal with difficult situations.

i’ve been mulling over whether or not to write some more about condolences in general. i went back and forth. finally i came to the conclusion that there should be a post about it. it would make me feel better. and if i were to read this as someone who had never lost anyone before, i think it would help me handle other people’s grief a bit better. i’m sure i’ve reacted badly in the past. maybe not badly but inappropriately.

that’s not to say that i would know the right words to say because i wouldn’t. i don’t claim to be an expert and people are different. we deal with grief differently especially at different stages in our lives. i do, however, like to read about these things, about other people’s experiences and then kind of paint a whole picture out of all the different fragments. read the paragraphs, write the entire story.

the thing is i’m genuinely interested. it helps me broaden my mind and my heart.

it’s difficult to have the right words, to have the right reaction to someone who loses a loved one. there is no right way. there are a couple of wrong ways, however. plus, you have to factor in the various cultures and how they deal with death. but that’s a whole new ball game which i shan’t tackle. at least not in this post.

i’ve compiled a few points starting with the ones that are most cringe-worthy to me. here goes.

”i don’t know what to say”

this doesn’t help the griever. I think this one should be said in one’s head and not out loud. perhaps a touch of the shoulder, a handshake. but don’t say that you don’t know what to say. it projects the responsibility of the griever who, let’s face it, has even less of a clue what to say. they have enough on their plate. say something else.

”she’s with god now”

oooh. this one always made so angry. wrathful even. we don’t all believe in the same god. rather, we don’t all believe in god. we don’t all go to church, temple, mosque. whatever. it makes me angry when people think i do. it just means that you don’t know me. furthermore, this god that you believe in, he let my sister become sick, and he let her die. before that he made her live with the notion of a horrible demise of body and mind which was bound to happen. the type of brain cancer that she had foreshadowed such a fate. there is no cure. there is only the slow departure of one’s self from vibrant to sluggish to dead. so don’t tell me that she’s with that kind of god. fuck that god. i don’t push my beliefs on you, don’t push yours on me. i am sensitive about this in general and you can be sure that i was extra sensitive about it right after my sister died but i didn’t have the strength to comment on it. i do have the strength now though.

“she’s in heaven now”

see paragraph above. it’s basically the same. mind you, i want to believe that she’s in a better place even though i can’t know that for sure, not even in my heart. but heaven? angels? clouds? harps? no.

“she was too good for this world so she was sent up early”

see above.

”she wouldn’t want you to be sad”

uhm, she would definitely want me to be sad. you know who knew my sister? i did. and yes, she would want be to be sad. sure, she wouldn’t want me to give up on my life, to live in endless sorrow. this statement implies not only that you, a person who was acquainted with her, knew her better than i did, and that my relationship with her was not worthy of a few tears. she’s my sister. of course i’m going to be sad. i’m going to be sad for the rest of my life but i’ll live with that sadness one way or another. if i want to have a decent life at all, i have to be able to do that. also, it’s disrespectful to say something like that. come on. think before you speak.

“time heals all wounds”

i might have mentioned this one but no, time does not heal any wounds. maybe the physical ones but even those you have to clean,  tend to, take care of. and some wounds leave scars. this kind of wound is always there. here. tending to it every day, especially in the first few months and even now, years after the loss, will help it heal somewhat. after 5 years, i know it’s still there and it still opens up, bleeds, hurts. maybe not as often but still as intensively as before.

“i know what you’re going through”

unless you have lost a sibling, you don’t know what i’m going through.

“she was so young”

yeah, no shit she was so young. how does this help the situation? it only makes it worse because it highlights everything that’s wrong with this picture. and it’s already a pretty ugly picture.

a poem

ugh. while death might be a hot topic for bestsellers, movies, music etc. it’s a far cry from being supportive. to me, it gives grief a sense of intellectualism that doesn’t really have a place in this kind of situation. it seems too abstract for something that, in the moments immediately following someone’s death, is simply black and white. she was alive. now she’s not. a poem is like serving a gourmet meal at a wake or wearing a ballgown to a funeral. it won’t be appreciated because it’s simply not necessary. it’s just rude.

not saying anything at all even though i know that you know that my sister died

this happened more often than you’d think. i guess because people feel uncomfortable or weird about death. maybe. still. even a child will acknowledge a death. they might ask questions that seem inappropriate to adults but they are at least genuine in asking them. i heard this one about a 2-year old boy who kept asking if he could also go where his grandpa went simply because he wanted to see him. genuine. sweet. and heart-wrenching too. as adults, though, i think stepping out your comfort zone is a must and recognizing someone’s passing is just common curtesy, if not for the one who died, at least for the one who didn’t.

“be strong”

i’m on the fence about this one. if it means to say, be strong for yourself? then yes, ok. if it means, be strong for your family? then, no. it’s not ok. i can’t be strong for anyone else. at least, i no longer try because i don’t have to try. in any case i think the better phrasing would be something like take care of yourself. be good to yourself. find help if you need it. eat. sleep. one step at a time. that kind of thing.

condolences that made me feel better i have discussed to some degree but there were a few more that made me feel a little bit less shitty.

“i remember that time when Barbara…”

just offering a story or a memory of my sister. anything to do with her. something she said, did. something that i might not have known about. this was a flicker of light in the gloom. also, it identified her as a person not as a body in a box.

“i’m here if you need me”

this gave me a sense of comfort in that i wasn’t alone. just offering is enough. even if i’m not going to follow up on it, it’s good to know that i can.

“she’s singing in the heavenly choir”

now, this one might seem odd to be in this category but there’s a reason i put it here in the ‘this helped’ section. it’s all about circumstance, right? this was said by our former choir director with whom Barbara and i sang for many years. yes, a church choir. we were kids and we enjoyed going because this choir director was an absolute joy. she loved music and she loved what the music praised. in this case, it praised faith in general. not so much a god but a faith in something beyond this world. she instilled upon us this love of music through singing. there seemed to be no higher form of worship in her eyes. she taught us that. so, of course, when she wrote me this in her condolence message, it brought about the desired effect. it gave me comfort. it combined the memory of my sister, the sincerity of the person, her love for both of us. the acknowledgement of her life and perhaps the meaning of her death. without putting her own grief ahead of mine, she offered me just the right amount of warmth and compassion that i needed. she offered me what truly lay in her heart.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that it’s best to be simple about condolences unless of course you are close to the one who died and the one left behind. then the message can be personal. if you are/were not, then a ‘personal’ message might seem over the top, fake and dishonest. it might even seem self-indulgent and egotistical. in other words, not helpful. and that’s the last thing anyone needs to be in general, not helpful.