Choosing the right words for comfort can make or break someone.When you lose someone close to you, you’ll be asked one thing a million times: “I’m sorry for your loss, how are you feeling?”
The first couple of times you here this, it won’t do anything to you. You already feel numb, and you don’t know how or what to feel. You just want that person back in your life. After a while, the phrase will annoy you. You’ll check your phone and see text messages that ask how you’re doing, the first thing people will say to you is ask if you’re okay, and time and time again- people will treat you like you’re glass.
I lost my Dad to Cancer during my final year in Middle School. I went through this situation. I didn’t care that people felt sorry for me, I wanted my Dad back. My Aunt understood how I felt, she lost her Dad (my Grandpa) at a very young age as well. She knew that people would come up to me to ask “how I was doing” even though I really needed to be left alone. She even spoke to my Dad during his treatment and he told her “let my boys grieve the way they want to grieve.”
Most of the people didn’t get it. They didn’t know that I already heard the phrase, “I’m sorry for your loss, how are you feeling” millions of times. It was a messy time during my life; looking back I really can’t define what or how I was exactly feeling in that moment. My middle school was even aware about my situation back home. I’d get called up to the office by the Principal to meet with counselors and teachers so they could check up on me. I’m naturally an introvert, so I’m guessing they needed all of those teachers and counselors to try and get me to talk to them more. I couldn’t get away from this phase from my home, or even from my school. The feeling surrounded me 24/7, even with my thoughts, because I’ve heard those words so many times.
There was one History teacher in the 8th grade who reached out to me, but he didn’t tell me the cliche “sorry for your loss… etc.” He focused on the positive rather than the negative, and I applaud him for trying to get me out of my shell even though I’m a relatively quiet kid. Like my teachers and counselors, he knew about my Dad’s situation long before his death. I distinctly remember him telling me one time after class:
“Jordan I need you to stay after class…”
Once everyone left the classroom he would just walk up to me, and congratulate me on my grades. He then asked in a lighthearted tone: “I just wanted to know how’s your Dad doing? He left it right at that and didn’t try to move me into talking more. I’m not a fan of opening up to people and pouring out emotions through speaking.
Out of all of the other teachers and counselors, my History teacher was the only one to ask how my Dad was doing during his treatment, rather than me. This stuck out to me. He also invited me to join the Guitar Club at the school where I would meet up with other students and him to just learn new music. I needed something positive to focus on instead of all of the negativity of death, and learning new music saved me.
When my Dad passed away this teacher didn’t try to feel sorry for me and tell me something I already heard. Instead, he focused on the positive and kept me aside after class another day to say:
“I just finalized your grades and saw all of your test scores Jordan, nice work!”
I replied with a simple thank you, but he followed it up more with:
“No problem, good luck in High School Jordan. I know you’ve probably been told to keep your head up things will get better so I don’t have to remind you that- but hey anytime you still feel like coming back down to play guitar with us don’t hesitate! Stick with it!”
My teacher reminded me about all of the positives that went along with that year. Instead of approaching me with a sad look or tone, and meekly saying: “I’m sorry Jordan.” He gave legitimate words of encouragement.
Anyone can say, “I’m sorry”…but you want to speak to someone’s heart during a time when theirs is aching for happiness. Make them laugh. Tell them something funny. Share something happy going on in your life. Comment on some of their strengths. However, don’t ignore the situation. Take the time to listen to the individual. I have a friend who told me how people would ask her to just watch “Big Fat Greek Wedding” after her Dad passed away. She was concerned with her own happiness, not the other person.
My teacher understood what it’s like for someone to go through a loss in a unique way. Try to honestly focus on the positive in something or someone next time you try to cheer someone up. They’ll take your words into account and remember it for years long after you forget about that conversation.