Please accept our condolences…

Complements - Pixabay

Complements – Pixabay

As a freshly minted widow I am suddenly thrown into the world of public grieving. As a caregiver you grieve, but it is a more private process. An ever present minor chord in your life. The missing of someone there – but not. This, however is different. Now, as I go through the motions of dealing with the many, many tasks that must be completed to wind up my husband’s affairs, to manage the last bits of a move, and to somehow find a guiding star to lead me forward, I must deal with the public acknowledgement that he is gone. No longer a physical presence in my life.

My life is filled with landmines. Little memories that explode in my face as I hear a song on the radio — unpack a box that was packed before I knew he would not be with me — wake up in the night alone — talk to people who knew us, or him, or me. Memories. Memories that refuse to remain “pressed between the pages of my mind.” At least not yet.

This adjusting, this “moving forward,” this, “getting on with things” is something so many have managed with varying degrees of success for millennia. However, as my friends and followers know, I can’t leave anything alone until I pick it apart for myself.

So, I already have a pet peeve. “First, let us offer our condolences for your loss.” Really? You are a bank/credit card company or whatever business/legal connection on my list of “things that must be done.” Unless you are truly concerned about my specific loss, or you have some personal, genuine feeling for what that loss may mean, then please, perhaps you can find some other way to express whatever feelings you think you should have. Really.

When did we become a society that rattles off meaningless commentary because, well, it’s on the disclosure sheet in front of you? How about, “We understand this may be a difficult time for you and so we have established ways to take care of requirements as efficiently as possible.” Or, “We are in no position to know what this loss may mean for you so we will make this as easy as we can.”

For some reason I have developed a peculiar cringe when complete strangers express their “sorrow.” This may come from my personal philosophy on the whole concept of “I’m sorry.” My dear departed husband and I had many a discussion about the phrase. It always irritated me. I sincerely felt that a person should not use “I’m sorry” unless they made a personal contribution to the situation, or said person was in a position to truly have some level of empathy. Or, they actually meant it. “I’m sorry,” in my world, was supposed to mean something. Condolences, of course, is a word that wraps up sorrow into a specific situation. All the more personal. It’s all part of that family of “I know how you feel.”

No, I’m sorry, you may know something close, and from that we can both benefit. But, please, don’t rattle off platitudes just to make yourself feel useful.

Maybe I’m being over-reactive. But somehow I feel that if we persist in the easy, boilerplate responses to the heartache around us we can maintain the delusion that “we did our part.” Don’t ever avoid approaching someone who has suffered loss – don’t hide from the pain. I know it’s hard to think of something to say, but sometimes it really doesn’t take much. Even a call in the middle of day to see how a person is doing. An offer to mow the yard, wash the car, have a bite to eat. Or, an offer to provide the information necessary to wrap up one more item on the endless list of things that must be done.

You don’t have to know someone well to be “real,” but you do have to take the time to be human and to find in yourself genuine responses to the hurt and suffering around you. Let’s start a revolution. No more soundbites. What do you think?


Filed under Personal Journeys

10 responses to “Please accept our condolences…

  1. I totally get this: the plastic response to our private and tangible sorry speaks volumes for the way the cliché has filled in the need for a genuine response. There are few maps for where you are, and few quid lines about how you move forward, but dignity, instinct, and a general connection to life and those who depend on you can drag you out of any situation, regardless of your own feelings.

    You know my thoughts are with you, and I wish there was more I could practically offer, but there isn’t. Despite that you have my absolute admiration for who you are,and how you tackle this most difficult of situations. May life bless you as you deserve.

  2. Businesses serving the public have to walk a fine tightrope here, because they’re “damned if they do, damned if they don’t.” Victoria’s assertion that their condolences aren’t personal is, of course, correct, but businesses who wish to cultivate and maintain long-term relationships with customers have to be respectful of the widowed person’s situation. If this is a bank, brokerage or other financial institution that managed the couple’s finances, they do have more level of involvement than say, a retailer of a public utility. I would consider a condolence appropriate from a financial institution; indeed some people would be offended if they didn’t receive the expected perfunctory condolence, even if they think it’s just “what their boss told them to say”. I’ve worked in retail for over 25 years, so I understand how businesses will specify how their employees should respond to many different situations.

    • Mostly, I would agree, Daven — but I feel a, “we realize this may be difficult” would be far more appropriate. A local merchant? Someone that actually knew us? Yes, that would be different. Like I said, I may be over-reacting but in some cases I feel it is more an invasion than a sincere offer of sympathy. In fact the person that sparked this blog actually interrupted me and said she had to finish reading the disclosure. My only thought is that we should think through our responses and not just package things in some automatic blurting.

      • It was unprofessional of them to interrupt,you like that, and this didn’t show sympathy, for certain! And we’re all better off when companies allow employees more individual latitude in dealing with these situations, instead of having to “stick to the script”.

  3. When I was a pastor’s wife, I’d often find myself standing near grieving families as their friends came to offer condolences. Nearly every time, several peopke said something unintentionally insensitive or odd or stupid.

    People are not good at comforting one another. We all too often do and say the exact wrong thing. When trying to help those in a professional situation who are dealing with grief, this is all too often taken to a whole new level.

    The only thing I can say is this: the insensitive stupidity usually comes from a good place: people are genuinely trying to comfort you in some small way. They just suck at it.

    And, there’s this: every person I know who grieved the loss of an immediate family member, especially a spouse, did not remember the first year at all. It just seems to disappear.

    I hope you are able to find comfort when and where you need it, in ways that strengthen and warm your heart. Much love, and hugs,


  4. I have no words to say. Your post made me feel so much, I’m drawn to tears. You are a very strong woman. Lots of hugs and love, Emily

  5. We have so much in common but you’re doing it better. I write but this blog is so wonderful and I, as of yet, don’t know how to do that. Thank you for sharing.

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