When I posted Sunday morning about unsolicited advice, I had forgotten that my lady friend reads this blog. She read that entry, and her feelings were understandably hurt. Which was far from my intention.
As I say, the loss of a loved one is almost more than anyone can bear. A sudden unexpected loss, as with my brother, is even harder. What can you say? You hate to see your friend hurting, so you try to find comforting words. "I'm sorry" seems so paltry in the face of such a loss. Can we honestly say, "I grieve with you," without seeming to appropriate our friend's hurt? Most people my age (61) have experienced at least one major loss in their lives. Do any of us remember words that were the most comforting? I suspect most of us remember the closeness and concern of our friends more than any particular words said.
I typically say, "Peace be with you." Which could be just as troubling as any advice.
Thankfully, our church does not have people who would say "Your brother is in a better place now" or "God wanted another angel."
Hint: I'm, relatively certain those will not be comforting words to anyone.
Man, this may not be the best time to listen to Górecki's Symphony No. 3 (aka, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). Then again, it might be exactly the right time.
In a way, I blame my brother. His injunction against a funeral or memorial service has short-circuited the social customs around a friend's loss. For example, at work, the last time an employee lost a close realtive (her mother), she took off 2-3 weeks, and returned to find a sympathy card and some flowers. I haven't chosen to take off, primarily because there's no function to attend. There are, as yet, no practical concerns to attend to. So: no flowers, no sympathy card.
In the church, there would be a large funeral. There would be no need for the grapevine or Facebook posts to notify people I have suffered a loss. There it would be, an official announcement, spoken at our next services, and sent via email. The funeral would be followed by a feast, prepared by the Episcopal Church Women. I think Joann S would rejoice that she could minister to her friend. There is a custom of presenting people with a prayer shawl as a physical reminder that the bereaved is surrounded by the prayers of the community. These things will not happen for me. Though I did have a substitory wake Saturday evening with a mutual friend of my brother & mine.
So, I've been faced with finding my own rituals to walk the grief path. I've been praying the Novena for the Dead from St. Augustine's Prayer Book; ironically, my brother would strongly object to the language. At this moment, I accept the words - they are more like symbols of the stages. Sunday and Monday, I wore a purple shawl with a labyrinth pattern, as a token of the prayer shawl I may not receive from my church. In about two hours, I will attend Hal's funeral.
Side note: I was not extremely close to Hal. He was a priest in our diocese, and served at a church I attended for a brief time. I mostly interacted with him at a Guitar Camp he and Lindy Hearn led for several years.
Although Hal and I were not close, we did have a relationship. In a way, the relationship was similar to the one I had with my brother. So, I will attend his funeral, bearing in mind the transitive relation of grief; that this funeral will be a safe place for me to express grief for my loss.
As for my friends? It's hard. As I've said, to say his name, to admit he's dead, is a tender moment. So - everyone who knows me has my permission to spread the word. Let the grape vine ignite! I want everyone in my faith community to know, but I don't have the energy to tell each one.
Each person will express their condolences in the best words they can find. My task is to ignore the particular words, and to accept the compassion in the spirit in which it is offered. It will be tender, it may hurt, but it will be necessary. No significant change or transition occurs with out difficulties or pain.
To be honest, there's a part of me that wants to stand on the mountain-top and declare: "Pity me! For my brother, who I loved, is dead." There's another part of me that recognizes how maudelin & pathetic it would be to stop each person on the street with those words. There's a part of me that would like to use this loss as a "get out of jail free" card. I still remember justifying poor work performance in relation to my divorce. It's true, of course, I'm not fully on my game. But there's only so long that's appropriate, until it seems greedy and self-serving.
What can you say? I'm afraid I don't have a script. I think, as with past losses, your presence will be what lingers over time. Don't worry about your words. "Sorry for your loss," may seem insufficient, but your touch and your compassion will make up for anything lacking in the words.