“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”- Mark Twain
A deer crashed through the windshield. Dan received minor injuries. Two of his children were fine. The third was killed.
What can you say? Everyone wants the right words. Some do not know those words. Others say the wrong words because they have failed to follow The Platinum Rule (I previously missnamed this The Silver Rule) - What would the other person want to hear?
Some people around Dan picked the wrong words.
“If one more person tells me my little girl is in a better place I’m going to scream,” Dan told me. "I want her here!”
Another example. Steve and Julie had two children. One suffered a fatal heart attack. A visitor told Steve, “Well, at least you have your other child.
Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing. A compassionate presence speaks volumes. Fixing food and running errands is healing.
As with illnesses never tell the grieving daughter, "I know exactly how you feel. My father died too."
No, you do not know how she is feeling. Her relationship with her father was different than yours. Do not assume her heart is identical.
In my own family a relative picked the wrong words to say to me when I arrived (from out of town) too late to my father's death bed. "I'm so glad I was here when he died," he said.
What should you say? The Jewish tradition offers some answers through the ancient practice called "Sitting Shiva." Two of the guidelines include: 1) When you approach a grieving party say nothing. Let the aggrieved initiate comment. 2) A widow is not allowed to prepare food for seven days. The community does that.
Other things that seem helpful include: Telling the person how your heart breaks for them. As with serious illness (another kind of loss) tell them they are in your thoughts.
Liz Wessel sent me an excellent list of helpful and less helpful choices. Click on this link.
You may feel awkward about visiting a grieving friend. Show up anyway. Live Love.