Yesterday we got another condolence card. The outpouring of support is so strong, and we couldn't ask for more. People have sent cards, food, flowers and the week I came home I was almost never allowed to be alone. (I hate being alone most of the time, and apparently everyone knows it. Probably explains why there were 15 people in my hospital room at any given time.) ANYWAY, my husband grabbed the mail, so he opened this card. It was from my cousin. A lovely card in soft colors with a sweet sentiment inside, she had simply written, "I'm so sorry for your loss. Please let us know if there's anything we can do for you."
I was cleaning the kitchen, so I was barely paying attention until he
walked out to take the garbage and yelled, "Anything you can do?! How
about bring my son back to life?!" That kind of drama almost never
surfaces in my house (except when I am the perpetrator), so I followed
for more information. He explained how he was tired of token
responses. Unfortunately, until you're knee deep in this mucky
situation yourself, platitudes are your only device. And the card was
sent with deep sympathy and caring. I know my cousin, and all the
others who wrote us the same things, do love us. But I have to agree
The "let us know what we can do" thought is kind. But when was the last
time you called up someone and asked them for help? Really? Do they
really think I'm going to call and say, "You know, I'm exhausted today
and really emotional. Do you think you could get dinner for my family
tonight?" It's not going to happen. I read in a pamphlet I was given
that people are not supposed to offer hypothetical and vague efforts to
support a grieving family. Instead, they should say, "I'm going to do
XYZ to help out." My husband's old office staff sent us dinner last
night...and damned if I didn't see that as a light at the end of a
tunnel. No one really asked if they could do something for us. They
called him and said, "We've done this. When would you like it to
arrive?" Specific generosity. I loved it.
But the part that really bugs me is the "I'm sorry for your loss" part.
Yes, obviously I believe your sympathy and appreciate it. But really,
he wasn't just my loss. He was my son. I know I called everyone I know
to tell them the name we picked out the day we found out his gender.
Could you possibly call my dead son by his name? Again, partially
unfair. How could anyone know? I never knew these things. Until three
weeks ago, I had no idea that hearing my son's name would be a life
raft that keeps me from drowning. But now I've made it my crusade to
spread the news.
So, to those of you lucky people who haven't dealt with this loss, or
been ringside for the destruction (how many metaphors can I cram in
here?), I offer you this advice. Get specific. Why are you so sorry
for us, and what do you plan to do about it? I'd always wondered at the
Southern tradition of sending food to a bereaved family, but I swear
the next time someone loses a loved one, I'll be there with a pie to
listen to everything about their loved one's life.