There are no right words, she told me.
Some years ago – having lost over the prior few years her own parents and her husband – my ever-wise aunt said that in the wake of a loss, people say the wrong thing, or they say nothing.
She said that both things could be hurtful, but they hurt less when she realized that people say the wrong thing or say nothing because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. But, she had realized, there was no “right thing” to say.
Grief is grief, with its own demands. Its own agenda. Its own timetable. There isn’t a right way, that I know of. Just the way that it is, situation to situation, person to person, day by day, for those left behind to process the life, the loss, the gap left by those who have gone ahead.
What do I know about it? So little. Not enough to help, anyway — if anything could.
There is so much grief lately. For so many people.
I’m sorry, and I am saying the wrong thing.
One of my cousins passed suddenly last week. We attended the wake last night. The burial will be today.
I didn’t see her often and every time I did it was jarring to pull her out of memory and into reality…
How can she be married now, when in my head she is only and always 9 or 10 years old? How can she have a baby? A grown son?
So many things that hurt in this, so much I didn’t know in her life, or of her faith.
All the gaps of things unsaid or unknown.
To me she was always the little girl I remembered. I suppose she always will be, now, for me.
At the viewing I talk to my family, to her mom and her sister – it’s a blur if I spoke to her husband and son at any length – and everything I think to say, everything I do say, is surely the wrong thing.
Maybe my aunt was right, and there is no right thing to say. How can there be, when nothing I can say can diminish the enormity of this grief, or buffer against the overwhelming shock they feel?
That there might not be a right thing to say, is not a comfort.
What can we say? What do we say?
I’m sorry for your loss.
It’s our loss, of course. I’m sorry for our loss. But one doesn’t say that. But the grief is shared. It’s different, as our relationships were different, but it’s there.
How are you holding up? I’m so sorry… I’ll miss her… I’ve missed you.
So true, and so little against the moment.
Whatever else tumbles from my lips – and things do – it’s all just me grasping at offering comfort where my words are insufficient to the moment.
I am sure I am saying the wrong thing.
And I am sorry for that, too.