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Conversing with the Bereaved

March 3, 2011

Why is it that when you reveal that you’ve recently lost a loved one, people feel compelled to ask:

“Were you close?”

As if gauging the response to this question gives them some insight whether it’s appropriate to email you the latest must-see youtube link or whether there’s actual danger that you might burst into awkward tears, in which case the asker might want to consider backing away with a pained look and an:

“ohh. I’m so sorry.”

Which is always so well intentioned. But I can’t stand it. When I hear it, I can’t help feeling like I should alleviate their misplaced remorse with a platitude of my own:

“She was old and tired. I think she was ready.”

When really, who the hell am I to know? Was that just a line that she was feeding us to alleviate our own unavoidable sorrows? So that when she was gone, as she knew she would be, we would be able to tell ourselves that:

“She’s at peace now. In a better place.”

I’m guilty of these myself, of course, when faced with someone else’s grief. In my heart I wish I could take their pain away. But I can’t. So I offer to do anything else that might be within my human power:

“Please tell me if there’s anything I can do… If there’s anything you need…”

And when I say this, I mean: do you need me to cover a meeting for you or bring you more tissues. Maybe pick up some take-out and swing by your place. I mean: tell what I can do to make myself feel useful. Because I already know what they need. What they need is their loved one back. For the pain to end. For this all to be a bad dream.

That’s what I need, anyway, as I move through this very surreal week that began with Monday –  the first time in over ninety years that the sun set on a world without my grandmother in it – and will conclude on Sunday – when we toss roses and handfuls of earth over what’s left of her and lower it slowly into the ground beside her husband. I need her voice and her cold hands and the funny dance she always did. I need to be enveloped in her arms and her Chanel perfume and to hear her call me sweetheart angel just one more time.

But I’m a grown up now. And I know what’s what. In the hierarchy of tragedies, this is neither shocking nor unexpected. I know there’s a game to be played and I know that it makes us all feel better in some immeasurable way. So I’ll put on my brave smile and join in the chorus. The call-and-answer refrain of platitudes and hollow comfort. I will know, in my heart, that they mean well. I’ll tell them:

“Thank you.”

And I’ll mean it. Truly. I could do no better.


This post was inspired by the writing prompt over at Mama Kat’s: One pet peeve that shouldn’t drive you crazy, but does.
Check out the rest of the posts from some super talented writers.

Mama’s Losin’ It

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2011 10:32 am

    ::hugs:: It’s never easy losing a loved one, hope that’s not too much of a platitude. I lost a grandma this past week, too.

    • March 3, 2011 10:47 am

      I’m so sorry to hear that. See? I can’t escape the cliches either. Truly, though, my heart goes out to you.

  2. March 3, 2011 11:30 am

    I lost one grandfather seven years ago – and it still hurts a lot at times. I lost my other grandfather four months ago – and it still really hasn’t sunk in. It’s difficult. And sometimes there are people who will say the right thing, but often it’s just time that is needed.
    And because I just can’t help myself, I am sorry for your loss. Truly. Death is something I wish no one had to face.

  3. March 3, 2011 1:52 pm

    Your post was poignant and beautiful. Everyone understands that feeling, and yet you wrote about it in a way that I probably couldn’t express.

    Stopping by from Mama Kat’s

  4. March 3, 2011 3:08 pm

    Beautiful post! I lost my husband in October, so I can totally relate to your pet peeves. The hard part is that even though I’ve been there and been annoyed by those same things, I still don’t know anything better to say. There really is nothing you can say. For me, just having my friends and family there is what meant the most…they didn’t have to say a word.

  5. March 3, 2011 4:46 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I lost a dear friend when we were 20, and people are just so stupid when it comes to death. They just keep talking and talking when what they really need to do is shut up. Hugs to you.

  6. March 3, 2011 6:18 pm

    This is my first time reading your blog. I’m not going to pretend to know you or your relationship with your beloved grandmother. I’m not going to try to offer generic sentiment. Just know that writing about things like this is important. It’s something we’ve all experienced. The fact that you’ve shared this piece of your life here and all who’ve read it feel strangely connected is what I love about the blogging community. You were kind enough to visit my site today through Mama Kat. I’m returning the favor and I’m glad I did. I look forward to reading more.

  7. March 3, 2011 8:39 pm

    That was beautifully written. I am sorry for your loss. And you are right, there is never a single good thing to say when someone loses a loved one. It’s just hard. And it just stinks. But you wrote it beautifully.

  8. March 3, 2011 9:21 pm

    Death is so hard, no one knows how to react…. everyone wants to make you feel better, but they know there’s absolutely nothing they can do.

    Hope you feel better soon.


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