On my morning commute last week, an interesting radio conversation about grief and consolation made me turn up the volume. The co-hosts of one of my preferred morning radio programs were discussing what we say to our friends who are dealing with emotionally trying, tragic circumstances.
One of the hosts said that he dealt with a difficult personal issue a few years ago. He described conversations he had with friends who wanted to offer their support and condolences, and he said, “Most of them told me, ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say to you.’”
And then the host made a particularly interesting comment: “Then my friends opened their mouths anyway — and that’s when I wished they had never said anything in the first place.”
I’ve certainly been on both ends. When I attempt to give my grieving friends comfort or insight, too often I walk away feeling as if I’ve failed. My words are balloons that have come untied, or antiseptic on a burning wound. I long to help — and stumbling over my words, confused over what angle I should take, I feel a miserable failure.
How many of us have admitted that we have nothing comforting to say, and then turned right around and scraped together some kind of awkward, unhelpful comment? Why is it that we feel we must speak, and why do our words so often harm the mourner?