One of the dumbest things anyone has ever said to me is: “...at least you had some time together. If he’d had a fatal heart attack and died suddenly, you wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”
This was said to me at the funeral home the day before my father was buried. My dad was diagnosed with cancer December 2006, right before Christmas. Three weeks later, he ended up in the hospital with complications. During that period, which lasted for almost 21 days, he suffered through the inability to eat or drink or use the bathroom, painful tests, probing physicians and three heart failures. The third one killed him.
Watching him suffer and deteriorate daily was bad enough (he’d been a physically strong man all his life) but when he lost his will to live, it was unbearable. He’d always been an easygoing, witty (I got my humour gene from him) and upbeat person. And the disease took all that away from him. It literally broke him. And the people who loved him.
So no, that time with my father wasn’t a bonus. Or welcome. There were days when we wished his suffering would end. And there were moments that I believed that a fatal heart attack from the get-go would have been better for him and for us. But that’s not true. I know that if that had happened, I would have wished for the extended stay. Because what it comes down to is that there is no ‘good way’ to lose a loved one. Grief is grief.
Hey, I get it; people don’t know what to say when someone dies. It’s a very uncomfortable situation to be in. But after losing two very close and beloved family members within four years (my father and brother), I’ve learned one thing: when you don’t know what to say, say very little, so you don’t put your foot in your mouth. And you don’t upset or frustrate the bereaved.
Keep it short and keep it simple. Use short phrases like:
“I’m sorry for your loss”
“My condolences to you and your family.”
“I’m sorry about (insert name/relation). Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
"I was deeply saddened to hear of (name of the deceased)'s passing. My heartfelt condolences."
Touch an arm, hug if you’re close. Then stop talking. Just stop. And move away.
If you can’t help yourself because you’re a chatterer, don’t talk about illnesses or suffering or death. Instead, share some happy memories of the deceased to show how much s/he was admired, respected and loved. Those types of stories are always appreciated and they help ease the grief.
But never, ever say that the people left behind are lucky because the way their loved one died is better. It's never better. Death is forever.
What is one of the dumbest things anyone has ever said to you?