My father died five months ago. I truly believe that when someone suffers a loss, whether it is a death, divorce, or in these times, the loss of employment, it is truly better to say something, no matter how awkward, than to say nothing.
During my father’s illness, my husband took time off from work to care for our daughter’s needs and to keep the house running while I was at the hospital with my father, mother and sisters. I made it home almost every night and left messages for friends, updating them on Dad’s condition. As an active member of my church, I had hoped that my pastor, for whom I had left numerous phone messages, would give me a call. I made the assumption that being seasoned in helping others through loss, that she would feel comfortable calling or stopping by. When I returned to my church after a six week absence, again I was surprised that few people approached me. Had I developed a contagious disease? Was I a total jerk and just didn’t realize it? What had I done wrong?
Later I was told that I was such a private person and that many church members didn’t know what to say. It is ironic that the first person to offer his condolences was someone I did not know that well, a native of Cameroon, whose daughter I taught in Sunday school. He took my hands in his and simply said, “I am sorry for your loss.”
It was the people who had the courage to talk to me, call or stop by before and after my father’s death that truly sustained me. They, like me, feared saying something stupid or hurtful, but what I have come to believe that it is better to risk saying something stupid, than to be silent.
Recently, I sat in the dentist’s office, scanning magazines, waiting for my daughter to finish her appointment. I had come to know the receptionists, who were sisters, during our frequent visits. One of the sisters was Helen, who shared the same name as my daughter. We used to joke about the coincidence of names. After scanning the newspaper a few days before, I noticed that Helen had died from cancer. It was sad to see her sister sitting alone at the front desk.
I felt the fear of saying something stupid or insulting. After my daughter went back for her appointment, I waited for a quiet moment and approached the front desk. “I am so sorry for your loss,” I whispered, feeling my face and ears grow red. “How are you doing?” “Okay,” she responded. “I miss my sidekick….thank you.”
I am as guilty as anyone of taking the easier road; sending the card instead of making the call or stopping by. But now having experienced my first raw grief, I believe I will try harder to do what is difficult, but is more healing.