When words comfort
When we lose a loved one, we can go through a wide range of emotions for decades.
How many times have we prayed to not feel alone, or lonely?
Very often, other people don’t know what to say. So they remain rather silent and often hope the one who is grieving will help guide them through uncomfortable realities.
“Times to connect” don’t just include the immediate time of loss. Words that actually may comfort, often come in later days or years.
These are times that include anniversaries and birthdays. Times when the loved one was missing at a wedding, the birth of a child or holiday gatherings. And there are other quiet moments when unexpected grief washes over us. I’m certain you can add other personal examples to this list.
I have a dear lifelong friend, named Robin Cillo, who had lunch with me the other day. With great embarrassment, I recognized that I had never really discussed the loss of her daughter over nearly three decades.
In a very quiet yet sincere tone of voice, I asked if I could talk with Robin about her daughter. I apologized that I didn’t connect with her on days that I knew were difficult. She smiled and we talked.
I appreciate that Robin is letting me share the poignancy of her life’s story and letting you join our conversation.
We both feel that more often than not, people deal with these strong feelings regarding loss. We both agreed that a column might reach out and validate those that have felt alone in their life’s story.
Robin told me how her daughter, Allison Jo, wasn’t supposed to live after her birth – yet did for four years. During those four years, and after, people kept telling Robin that “at least it was giving her time to prepare for the death”.
In both our strong opinions, you can never fully prepare for any loss, INCLUDING the unchartered ripple effects that will happen through the upcoming years.
No one anticipates losing their child. It’s not the normal expectation of our life cycle, and never will be.
Throughout my life, I have listened as other people have tried to comfort various friends. Many times I would hear someone say, “There’s another angel in heaven now.”
Some people may appreciate that comment, while others will have a very strong negative reaction to it. They’d rather have another day, instead of another angel.
There are many situations where someone is quite ill, and he or she has told family members they have made their peace with passing. While loved ones experience these deaths, it does not mean the family members are at peace.
And there are others left to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. There are no words to truly comfort. Yet you can be there for them at the time, and in years to come.
Other people have lost a person that created great complexity in their life. We are reminded again, that the person will not know their true feelings about this loss until it happens.
Back to Robin’s words, “You can never fully prepare.”
While I recognize people want to say something that is thoughtful and well-meaning, words such as “She/he lived a good long life”, “I understand how you are feeling”, and “Things will get better with time” are often not received with the intention you offer.
And if you never had a pet, you may not understand the importance of this significant loss. They too were family. Maybe the only family someone actually had.
So if there are numerous comments that might make someone feel uncomfortable, what are some comments that might be welcomed?
This is an almost impossible question to answer to such a large and varied audience.
I do not think there is a perfect “right” thing to say.
I do believe the words “I am with you”, or “There are no words” may comfort some people. I also believe that a good memory you share about the departed, including funny stories, can be greatly appreciated. You’ll know the appropriate thing to do or say when the time comes.
I am not perfect. I have stumbled over words. I have been speechless. I have cried and hugged the person instead of exchanging any words.
People may not even be able to feel their legs as they receive your embrace – or remember your words. Yet, most likely, they will remember you being there for them.
AND equally as important – as time goes by – what do we say? Robin and I talked about how she was already thinking about her daughter, so why not make a comment?
Others may feel the same, while some may find it intrusive.
That said for those whom have had a loss in past years, your words may just be the perfect gift of love and validation they were needing. Personally, I truly appreciate these gestures in my own life.
This is a very difficult column to write. As stated before, not everyone will feel the same way, and what I have written may come across differently than my intentions.
May you know that “being there” is always an important interaction for people, no matter what age or stage of life they are in. May some of your tears shed, be in remembrance of happy “hold onto” times. May you forgive yourself for any words left unsaid, or not said as you had hoped. May you receive enough strength to get you through each day. And may you see those still in front of you, ready to fully engage in your life’s story – as well as their own. May peace be with you. And God Bless You, Robin Cillo.
Langley is the author of the newly-released book, “Life Changes…” The column is published the first Sunday of each month.