There is nothing I can say
that will bring them back,
all their bright futures spread before us,
but I will stand here all the same with you
my heart broken open with yours
and remember what we have lost.
Brian Andreas, StoryPeople
Someone dies, and we rush in, desperate to help our friend or family member. Eager to say the “right” thing that will offer comfort, ease their pain and demonstrate our love.
But instead, we fumble. We say too much or not enough. We search for the perfect words, and when we can’t find them, we grab onto cliches or oft-repeated phrases. Worse, we offer a positive spin, a promise of deeper meaning or a resolution down the road.
Even those of us who have lost some of our most important people struggle in the face of heartbreak. We know that nothing can make it better. Yet still we try, frantically trying to remember what comforted us.
Our devastated friend knows that we can’t bring her dead loved one back to life. We can’t turn back time or beat back the cancer. We can’t offer a warning so that there’s time to patch up a quarrel, affect a reconciliation or say a final “I love you”.
In our fear, we forget that listening is the greatest gift of all. That releasing grief involves containing it, expressing it and having someone who loves us bear witness to the pain.
Instead of fixing, what we can do is show up. Be present. Listen attentively to our grieving loved one and respond with what is true — “I’m here.” “I don’t know what to say.” “I miss him, too.” “I love you, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Sometimes, grief is too big for words. Too wrong to ever be made right. So we listen, standing with our friend or family member, honoring what was lost, reassuring them that they are not alone.