Sep 13 Tuesday

What to say…What not to say…

I have struggled with writing this post for months. It’s been something I continually come back to, time and time again, to add to, revise or ponder.

The most difficult thing, after a death or other traumatic event, is knowing what to say to those who were immediately affected.

Now, having been on both sides of the coin, I have a stronger opinion on things.

This post is not intended to offend. It’s to serve as a reference to anyone, including as a reminder to myself, as to what paths are best to follow when someone you love is hurting.

Unrelated: Every time my Dad would drive by a cemetery, he would say “Boy, people sure are just DYING to get in that place!” and then laugh. So now I laugh too and say the same thing. Because even though I am sad, dying is a part of life. And life is better with a sense of humor.

What to do:

Show up. If you feel that you should be with someone, go to them. Even if just for a hug. Even if they tell you they are all right. GO. Attend services. I can still recall all of the familiar faces who were there for my family during our time of suffering. I can also tell you who was not there. Never, in my entire life, have I understood the importance of “Visit the sick, mourn the dead.” Oddly enough, it was my own Dad who continually told me those words.

Don’t ask, Do. Don’t ask me what I need, tell me what you are going to do. Instead of “Can I bring you dinner?” say “I am going to bring food to the house at 5 pm for your family. I will leave it on your doorstep hot and ready to eat.”

Communicate. The less people the family has to re-tell the story to, the better. Share the facts. Please.

Reach out. I became obsessed with reading cards, emails, texts, Facebook posts and online condolences after losing my dad. As with spoken words, it was incredibly comforting to see your loved one be embraced by an entire community. Even the notes from people I’ve never met, but wanted to reach out, made a tremendous impact. If you feel compelled to say something, SAY SOMETHING.

What to say:

“I am so sorry.” There are no better words. Oddly enough, when someone expresses their condolences and shows emotion, it eases the pain of loss. It shows how loved those who are lost were…Are. Some of my most comforting moments were holding my friends and family as they sobbed at my dad’s wake. They apologized for their lack of control and I assured them that as much as I hated it, I loved it. My time to cry was later.

“You were a good daughter.” (Wife, husband, son, friend, mom, dad.) A friend of mine lost her dad just one day before I lost mine. She shared these words with me, that someone had said to her, and they immediately set my mind at ease. They are a beautiful reminder that we do the best we can do.

“I will never forget when…” Share memories. I still love hearing people talk about my Dad. Whether it’s a quick story and exchange of a hug, or a kind email on Wednesday afternoon, it’s always nice to know that people don’t forget.

You can, I repeat, YOU CAN say things like “I about died!” Or the words death, dying, kill, etc. in my presence. While you’re sensitive to this as a taboo type subject, it’s now my reality so no offense taken. Weeks after burying my dad, we went to a local watering hole with some friends to celebrate SuperHub’s birthday. A friend of mine ordered Dead Guy Ale. The waiter walked up to the table and said “Who ordered the Dead Guy?” You could have heard a pin drop for about 10 seconds. Then I said “Now THAT’S funny!” and we all laughed to tears.

What not to say:

Nothing. Please, say something. Or just grab my hand and squeeze it. I will know.

You are doing remarkably well.” Would you rather I crumble into a little pile of people, sobbing hysterically on the floor? Because I can do that at any moment. Just say the word.

RIP – I hate this acronym. The intentions are good, but it belongs on a Halloween decoration, not an expression of condolences.

“The worst is yet to come.” Everyone has their own path in the grief process and lives experiences differently.

Through our own painful realities, we learn how beautiful life really is. And to appreciate drinks named Dead Guy Ale. Life is too short not to raise a glass, cheers and know the right thing to say. Or just shut up and drink.

  • Posted By: Annette

    I know what you mean.

  • Posted By: Danielle Liska

    Thank you for sharing. I don’t think you realize the impact that your blog has on the people around you. My heart ached for you when I heard you lost your father. Your love for him was always apparent – you lit up when you talked about him… Your writing didn’t teach me how to love, but it has helped me to appreciate the time I have with my dad.

    So, what I’m trying to say is: Todd Gordon is still leaving his mark on the world – even if it’s just his gentle reminder to hug my dad ONE more time before he gets on the plane.
    Thank you both.
    sending love.


  • Posted By: Molly Z

    What a great post, Katy. I especially like the advice to say I’ll be bringing dinner at 5pm. There is nothing worse than having people say ‘if you need anything’…(I know I’ve said it). This applies to so much, a death in the family, illness, a new baby, a new home, etc. Just DO IT!

    I do not like RIP either…at least say Rest in peace.

  • Posted By: Hillary

    Thank you for posting this. Death is one area in which I do not do well. I am usually so overly concerned with saying the wrong thing that it has led me to say nothing. In hindsight, I realized just how terrible that was. Even if I just said I didn’t know what to say, but I love you or am thinking of you or I am sorry…would have been a million times better. Unless it’s something awful, it’s better to let that person know you are in their thoughts and heart. So, with that in mind, I again say thank you for providing this reference. I also wholeheartedly agree with Danielle that your dad is still leaving his mark on the world! Sending lots of love your way!! XOXO

  • Posted By: Kirsten

    Yes, yes, and yes. Everything you said in your blog is so true! While I have not had to deal with the untimely death of someone I love, my middle son was critically ill for a long time and many of my sentiments about that time are remarkably similar. The greatest gifts people gave me during that time was simply their presence and their acknowledgement of my pain and worry.

  • Posted By: Jill

    Absolutely. Words to live by.

    Thank you Katy.

  • Posted By: Angie Miller

    This post is spot on. It’s hard to know what to do or how to respond, but I think you’ve summed it up well. I don’t think we stop to think of what we’d want to hear until we are in that situation. I lost my dad suddenly a year ago September 10th and my husband lost his dad 4 months later. After having these experiences I have realized how much it means to receive a prepared meal even if you think you don’t need it. Your dad was a wonderful man who made everyone he met feel welcome and comfortable.

  • Posted By: Katy

    I love you all. ALL of you. oxo