A friend of mine from High School sent me a post on Facebook from a woman named Sheryl ending shloshim after her husband suddenly and unexpectedly died. Shiva is a 7 day period of mourning in Judiasm. Shloshim is the mourning period 30 days after death, which overlaps shiva. After shloshim, all mourning restrictions are lifted for a Jewish spouse. So after her shloshim concluded, Sheryl got on Facebook and shared her thoughts.
Sheryl had an observation about words. People are afraid to use them around you when you lose somebody. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know how strong or fragile you will be. She made a point about being appreciative when someone was savvy enough to ask her “How are you doing today?” instead of just “How are you doing?” The distinction, to her, was that the former recognized that you are barely holding it together and that every day is a struggle, and the latter is tone deaf because the idea of being ‘okay’ is impossibly foreign.
But I have a different take. I have friends that I haven’t talked to in years or even more than a decade reach out to me. I have had people I did not know write me because my words resonated with them. I have had friends and co-workers ask me, tactfully and not, what happened, or if I am okay. I have had plenty of people ask me “How are you doing?”. More often than not though, I get into a conversation with a friend, or a relative, and they start out by saying they are sorry. It’s usually one sentence. Then they are lost. Even friends who have themselves experienced profound loss. It’s just terrible. And believe me, I get it. And I thank you.
So whatever you have said to me, and however you have said it, thank you. People that talk to me have an overwhelming sense of importance to talk to me, given the subject, so their brain tricks them into thinking that they’ll have a lot to say. But they don’t. You won’t. You’ll get stuck after you say “I heard… I’m sorry.” That is because there are no words. Many people recognize that there are no words and they say so. But at the core of what everybody is saying, or at least is trying to say, is that it is so emotional, so awful, that all you want to do is communicate the emotion. Communicate the feeling. We don’t have words that communicate the type and magnitude of what we are trying to communicate. It’s hard to just say “I’m sorry.” or “It just sucks.” But I know what you want to say. And that’s enough for me.