Since passing on some of what I have learned in life is supposed to be one of my reasons for writing, I’m going to pass along something I just learned, or figured out, or whatever. I caught on to something I should have recognized a long time ago, that acts of kindness or friendship don’t have to be perfect nearly as much as they simply have to be done.
A blog friend of mine suffered the loss of a loved one this week. She and I have never met, but we have exchanged a few comments on each others blogs and I feel like I know her well enough from reading what she has written to call her a friend. In any case, on hearing of her loss, I wanted to express my sympathy. All the overworked phrases, “so sorry for your loss” “deepest sympathy” etc. came to mind but just seemed too trite to use. After some more pondering, I finally came up with something I could put in a Facebook comment format that I was comfortable saying and sent it off.
It was only later, as I thought about what I had written, that I realized it wasn’t what I said, or how well I had conveyed the sympathy I felt that mattered, only that I had said something at all. “I don’t know what to say,” is an often heard refrain. When someone is hurting, we want to help but often feel that there is nothing we can offer that will do any good and are even sometimes afraid we will cause more pain. Unfortunately, reluctance because we might say the wrong thing can easily be interpreted as indifference. Someone once said, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” It isn’t as important that we always say just the right thing as it is that we not leave the impression that we just don’t care. The grieving person might not even notice that we have reached out, but if no one reached out their pain could be much worse.
As I think about this subject, I realize that I have been on the other end of it before. My dad ran a gas station for a number of years after he quit farming. He had a series of boys/young men who worked for him and to a number of them he and my mother became almost surrogate parents. They listened to their problems, fed them meals, celebrated their birthdays, and generally treated them more like family than employees. When Dad died, I expected that some of those boys, now men, would come to “pay their respects,” and I was acutely aware that none did. I’m sure that many of them had good reasons why they weren’t there, but their absence nonetheless caused additional pain in an already painful time.
When you can reach out to someone in pain, do it. You may not do it perfectly, or even as well as you would like to, but you can be sure it will be better than not reaching out at all.