Soothing words

In the hours and days after Paul died, I received countless emails, Facebook messages, and sympathy cards. Everywhere I went I was bombarded with the most inane and superficial platitudes. “Time heals all wounds.” “At least he didn’t suffer.” “You’re young; you can start over.” “There will be better days.” “He’s still here with you.” The list goes on.

Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.

People were trying their best to help. They were saying what they felt I’d want to hear. They were saying what they thought would comfort me. These platitudes were far from helpful, but how would someone know that if they’d never been through what I’d been through?

In those early days, I constantly reflected on the one statement that I liked best, which came in an email the day after Paul died. I still reflect on the comment from time to time. It came from a man whom (at the time) I’d never met. He was a very good friend of Paul’s, having met when they were in university together. I met him in England later in the summer, when he spoke at the memorial service there. His words were so simple, but made me smile because they were so honest:

“… I can’t imagine how you are feeling, and nothing I can say really matters a damn…”

He went on to talk about Paul and to offer further sympathy, but that part of his email will always stand out for me. I think what struck me was that he didn’t try to fix things. He just simply acknowledged that things were crap and that he was thinking of me. I will always treasure those words because they really did help – even though they weren’t your typical sympathy message.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the words of others, because I do. I appreciate very much that so many people were trying to “make things better” for me. I am thankful that so many people wanted to make me stop hurting. It’s just that most of the words I heard were far from helpful. I wonder how many times I’ve uttered similar phrases hoping to comfort someone in pain without knowing?

But the main point of this entry is to share with you a sympathy card idea as proposed by stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia. It was posted on a forum for young widows (how sad that such a thing needs to exist). It seems that many people who’ve lost a loved one develop a slightly twisted and morbid sense of humour. I know I have, which is probably why I think that this would, actually, make a perfect sympathy card!

“On the cover, I’d put a picture of a duck-billed platypus playing checkers with a rhinoceros. And in the background, there’s like a hotdog with arms like holding up a lemonade stand at gunpoint. And then you open it up and it says ‘The World Is F—ed Up’.”

I think this would have made me laugh through my tears even then.

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