What you need to know:
- My most comfortable way of saying “I am sorry” is serving fellow mourners the tea and bread we normally serve during wakes, and washing the cups thereafter before leaving.
- If you’re among those that have mastered the art of comforting those in mourning, I’d appreciate more pointers.
Sometime in March this year, I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a couple of months. The last time I had seen her, she was almost giving birth to her first child, therefore the baby would have been around eight months. After the usual chitchat, I asked, “Boy and girl?” only to be met with silence and eyes that immediately misted up with tears. Eventually, she said in a strangled voice, “I lost the baby…”
I have never been as tongue-tied as I was at that moment. I debated between saying “I’m sorry” but I immediately dismissed it, sure that it would have sounded hollow and inadequate in the face of such a painful matter.
I considered hugging her, but our relationship was not that close. I then contemplated telling her something like, “You will be okay”, but since I did not know the magnitude of the pain she was going through, that would have sounded insensitive.
A statement such as “time has a way of healing pain” came to mind, but it is the sort of thing you would read in self-help books, which are often detached, all-knowing and haughty. I thought that perhaps I should ask what happened, what went wrong, but I feared that I would be intruding, or worse, reopening old wounds and painful memories best left firmly covered.
And so I stood there awkwardly, fuming inside, wishing I hadn’t asked that question, even though it had been the most natural question to ask at the time. Eventually, I mumbled, “I am so sorry…”, I mean, I had to say something, and then I said an even more awkward goodbye and fled. As you can imagine, I contemplated kicking myself many times afterwards, sure that there had been a better way of acting in such a situation.
I’ve never been good at addressing death. I never know the appropriate thing to say or how to act, and due to this, I prefer to commiserate with the bereaved in a group, rather than individually, because in a group I can hide behind others who seem to know the right thing to say, devoid of any unease.
Those people that hold the hand of the bereaved, look into their eyes and offer their sympathies for five minutes without once faltering, stoic in the face of the tears falling before them as they say all the right words.
My most comfortable way of saying “I am sorry” is serving fellow mourners the tea and bread we normally serve during wakes, and washing the cups thereafter before leaving.
Thinking about it, though, perhaps I am always at a loss on what to say or do in such circumstances because I have never thought about what I would like others to say to me or act towards me in such a situation.
Anyway, after that incident, I was so distressed, I decided to research on how best to comfort someone who is mourning. The most helpful thing I learnt is that in such a circumstance, it isn’t about me, it is about the person mourning, therefore I should focus on their pain, their loss, not on my discomfort, and that while at it, that I should never share my grief story, something that many do because they think it shows they understand what the person grieving is feeling.
But this is not always the case, because grief is different from person to person, not to mention the fact that you force the person you had gone to comfort to put their grief aside and comfort you instead.
If you’re among those that have mastered the art of comforting those in mourning, I’d appreciate more pointers.