Sometimes There Are No Words
First published 14th January 2020
When I reflect on the things people said to me or wrote after Michael died, one of the most ‘popular’ - if I can call it that - was ‘there are no words’.
I understood that; of course there really aren’t any words big enough, gigantic enough, to offer up any sort of adequate empathy or understanding for the loss in front of them. I was in shock. They were in shock. No one saw it coming and we were all devastated and speechless. And just that being expressed to me was a comfort; a big fat nod of empathy that showed an understanding for my pain; an acknowledgement that it was bad. And it felt absolutely okay that none of us really know how to describe it.
One very clear memory for me was lying on my sofa in the first few torturous days and uninvited people arriving telling me they ‘just had to come’. Part of me felt like I didn’t want to see anyone - only the person I could never see again - but soon realised I was taking small, but so very precious pieces of comfort each and every time someone walked through the door and wrapped their arms around me, shed tears with me, and told me they ‘had no words’. And I am so eternally grateful to every single bit of contact people gave to me.
But while most did, not all did reach out, and I understand that for some people it was just a case of not knowing what to say or fear of saying the wrong thing - or feeling I wasn’t ready. A case of ‘there are no words’. So best to say nothing at all perhaps. But is that ever really best?
Well it wasn’t for me, and dare I say it, not actually for anyone else I’ve spoken to about grief since. And interestingly, it’s the men I’ve spoken to about grief who seem to have struggled the most with the emotional support network around them. One actually said to me the that he thought his friends seemed in some way frightened to ask how he felt after his wife died last year, and it took him to actually proactively initiate the conversation about his feelings of loss. But sadly not everyone will feel they can do that, and that’s something for us all to be mindful of.
I can completely empathise with the worry about saying the wrong thing - I think that’s a natural and an obvious concern - but now, having been where I’ve been, I can honesty say that l think even hearing inappropriate or clumsy things is better than the nothingness of silence. Least we can wryly laugh or smile about the clumsy things later! Least it’s an attempt. Least it’s communicating. Least it’s showing the loss matters.
But silence is just so empty. And there’s nowhere anyone can really go with that. So my message here is to reach out to anyone you think is suffering. Say hello. Say you don’t know what to say. Say you are worried that you’ll say the wrong thing. Say you can’t imagine how they feel. Say you are sorry. Say you love them; loved their loved one too. Say something about their pain. Just don’t say nothing at all.
And that’s my purpose for this post. Because the simple principle of saying ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ can be applied throughout our lives. Not just to grief. A sense of loss is unfortunately felt at many stages - be it through divorce, change of job, house, children leaving home or financial loss - they are all times when the simple gentle and uncomplicated words of someone who cares can really mean the world. It’s not about fixing or having the answers - it’s simply about showing that their pain matters. And it about stopping the deafening sound of silence from bouncing of the walls and isolating someone even further, deeper, into their sense of loss and loneliness.
So if you know someone you think might be suffering, please say something. Anything. Just don’t say nothing at all.