original art by lizzie mcmanus
We had a death in the family this week. On my spouse’s side.
Standing in the three-hour-long receiving line, i heard it over and over: she has been promoted. She’s in a better place now. We’re sorry for us but happy for her.
These are not, inherently, terrible things to say to someone grieving. This death was sad, but it was the kind of death that was long expected and happened surrounded by family. So to tell her family that we will be okay, is not as insensitive as it was, say, when my cousins were killed before they had even graduated middle and high school. Then, it felt like people were so horrified by our wailing and so afraid it might happen to them (or our wailing reminded them of when it did happen to them) that they wanted us to hurry up and get out of sight, to get better and stop reminding them of the banality of senseless loss. Grieving people are painful to be around.
It is far easier for me to hear people’s concern and good intentions when the death felt natural, and right, and known.
I get why we default to these heavenly-happy platitudes: there is a gaping wound open for all to see and usually, wounds are for our consumptive entertainment or for tucking back into the closet. So we reach for what we have, which is our faith, and we offer it. Out of love, out of empathy, out of deep, deep care.
But if i’m honest, words like these still feel a little callous- even when it is given from the depths of care and concern.
Death is the only guarantee we have in life, and still, we do not know what to say when it comes.