March 8, 2007

Notes on Consolation

I've been thinking about Steve, my father Obie, my step dad Warren, my father in law Richard, our grandparents, my wife's co-workers (one young woman in the flower of her youth and the wife of another with three kids)... has a few notes on the art of comforting mourners:

...Without getting too deep into more examples, we can add to the collection of no-no's such phrases as "I know how you feel," "Life goes on," "You will heal," "Count your blessings," "You have other children," "Your grief will pass," and "You have your whole life ahead of you." All these expressions trivialize the mourning, rather than appreciating the gravity of the grief.

Condolence visits challenge us to be exceedingly sensitive and careful with our lips. Once the words come out, they cannot, unlike cars, be recalled. It is nice when the mourners themselves are understanding and appreciate our good intentions, but we should not rely on this.

You may ask, "If everything I say is potentially no good, what should I say?" Great question. And the answer is: say nothing! Say nothing? Is it not the obligation of the comforter to offer words of comfort? The answer, surprising as it may sound, is no. It is not the obligation of the consoler to offer words of comfort. The consoler's obligation is to comfort, plain and simple.

How can one comfort without saying anything? Comfort is achieved simply by being there, with the mourner, even in silence.

Posted by Dennis at March 8, 2007 1:16 PM

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