Tonight I found out that another mother lost her child. I felt everything inside me scream “No!”. The general travesty of losing a child was particularly eclipsed for me by the sense that I felt somehow responsible for this boy; responsible for his fate. From his birth I had a sense about him despite having few personal ties to his life. It made the news real. Inside I raged at the wrongness.
And then I wept.
I lost my neice over a decade ago. We learned a lot about grief as a family when that happened. Like; it comes in waves and the “why” is never good enough. We learned that there can be beauty in how we grieve. We learned to throw eggs at trees. I also learned something else…
Never tell a grieving parent “I’m sorry”.
I’ve tried hard to stick to this rule understanding that wounds go deep. Platitudes are salt to open wounds. But tonight, sitting in my van, sobbing and imagining his mother’s beautiful face all I could think was how very sorry I am. How woefully, deeply, piercingly sorry I feel for the whole thing.
This is going to walk the line of giving grieving people unasked for advice (another thing that I don’t recommend). Really, it’s meant more as an encouragement, because the truth is that if you are grieving you are going to hear “I’m sorry”. You are going to hear it way too many times and it may drive you out of your skin because I’m sorry just doesn’t fill the hole. But maybe this will lessen the blow.
When we say “I’m sorry” we are actually using it in its truest sense. Usually it gets substituted for “excuse me” or closer still “Will you forgive me?” Asking for forgiveness is very vulnerable so we tend to opt for the “I’m sorry” instead which keeps us in the driver seat. But, the truest meaning of “I’m sorry” is not excuse me or forgive me. What we are really saying is this…
I share your sorrow.
I see your sorrow.
I too, am full of sorrow.
I am bearing up this sorrow with you.
At times the words “I’m sorry” are the shortest and clearest path to acknowledging the great pain, perhaps even the wrongness, of loss. It is how we know to come alongside when there is nothing else that can really be said. And yes, the clerk in the grocery store will misuse it when he finds out that the reason you’re all dolled up is to go to a funeral. He will not know what to do with the pain and he will wrongfully use “I’m sorry” to move the conversation along without a shred of real emotion behind it, but many won’t.
For many that “I’m sorry” is frought with true grief and embodies the beauty of us coming together to bear up a loss we were never meant to know. We weren’t created for this. Death wasn’t in the original plan. There can be strength and comfort found in those two words. And when you are grieving strength and comfort can be hard to find.
I hope that anyone grieving tonight has those along side of them who truly are sorry.