Sunday, June 20, 2010

Words of Sympathy?

Yesterday I was trying to choose a sympathy card for the family of a cousin who died and I found that the cards were so inadequate and full of platitudes that really don't help. Before Leif died, I used to write my own messages about how people could take comfort in their memories. Now, I know that such comfort doesn't come. While one may be grateful for many of the memories, thinking of them doesn't bring peace or comfort, it brings the sense of loss, of knowing those times are gone and there won't be any more.

The idea that someone lives on because of our memories seems empty and foolish to me now. The memories live on in our hearts and minds, but the person lives no more. It may be a nice thought that they "live" in some sense because they are remembered, but it isn't so. The memories "live."

The one thing that the cards say that might actually be true is that the love and care of family and friends helps. It helps one get through the grief, but it doesn't take it away. It helps one realize there are others to care about, reasons to go on, people to love, but it doesn't take away the pain or the sorrow.

So what could one, or should one say to a grieving family. I am brought back to what Jason Palenske said at Leif's memorial service, something he learned by asking his grandmother, "I'm sorry for your pain." That, and recounting one's own memories of the deceased, are, to me, what is of value, and real, not some pretty but meaningless platitudes.

A few days ago, while I was in bed, a very short poem came to me, and I think it says what I feel.


Sorrow digs deep
into the heart
and burrows down
to make its nest.

Maybe someday I will add to it. Maybe there's more after the nest is made.


Peter W. found this photo of Leif out in the garage. It is an unused Army dependent ID card photo and was probably taken when Leif was about nine or ten when we were living in Hawaii, but it could be as young as seven or eight. In any case, that would put it between 1982-1985. He looks so sweet.

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