Our friends’ baby died recently. He was only three weeks old. Words cannot express their devastation. Words cannot express my sorrow and love to them.
Yet words are needed in this situation to express the inexpressible. A warm hug and a sympathetic look only goes so far. There are many compassionate people who have the gift of comforting those who are grieving.
I’m not one of those people. I’m always at a loss for words when faced with someone’s heartbreaking loss. I find myself murmuring platitudes and looking at the floor.
My youngest brother died tragically six years ago this month. Before his death, I had never experienced the death of someone close to me. We were very close. I was his big sister and he was my baby brother, but as we grew up we also became good friends. His loss literally broke my heart. For months afterwards, people would ask me how I was doing. I knew their words masked the inexpressible. Still, there were times I wanted to glare and ask them how did they think I was.
I remember clearly that I wanted to talk about my brother. I was so afraid that if I stopped talking about him it would mean I had forgotten him. The most comforting words I heard in those awful months after he died were: “Tell me about your brother. What was he like?” Not many people asked.
Nor is it a question I ask others, so afraid the memory will be painful and not wanting to cause more pain. You would think after my experience I would know what to say to someone who’s lost a loved one and when to say it. Even now that first thing that pops out of my mouth is a clumsy, “How are you doing?”
I saw my friend a few days ago. “How are you…” I stopped. “I’m sorry that’s a stupid question.”
She was very gracious. “It’s OK. I know what you meant.”
“I would love to get together when your up for it, ” I told her. “I’d love to hear all about your baby.”
There were a few tears, but I knew I didn’t need to feel bad about causing them. “I would love that,” she said.