Seven and a half years ago, when my dad died of cancer, I addressed this almost unbearable loss the only way I knew how. The first day back at school of my last semester at Texas Tech, on the same newspaper page in which I'd asked a guy out, debated "The Passion of the Christ," borne my testimony, argued my views and allowed people to share their low opinions of me, I wrote about my grief. I shared a list of things I didn't think you should say to people who were grieving, things that, though obviously well-intentioned, hurt.
I'm afraid that just by writing it, I scared people off from trying at all or made the people who had tried feel bad because they thought they did it wrong.
Three days ago I met with a volunteer coordinator for a local hospice organization. I'm going to start volunteering with them, providing support to people who are dying and the people who love them. In the big red binder I have to read and quiz myself on I found a list of phrases to avoid after someone has died. I felt better after finding some of the things I wrote or thought on that list:
- It was God's will.
- I know just how you feel.
- He's in a better place.
- It's OK.
- God needed him more than you did.
- You have to be strong.
A couple of weeks before Sharolyn died, I went to see her in the hospital. No one else was around but her mom, and she slipped out after a few minutes to run some errands. Sharolyn and I just talked. There was nothing earth-shattering, nothing that I even remember. I just remember being glad I was there with her, that I had this time with her, that I'd gotten to know her and been blessed to be her friend.
Today, I see their faces. I see them in the cancer patients in the hospice movies and the people at the store who don't move as quickly as I do. I see them in the people at the park who aren't always in a hurry to get to the next place. I'll see them in the hospice patients I go visit, and I think that's why I'm doing it -- because everyone is somebody's loved one or somebody's friend, and in their lives I see the people I love and miss so much.
Looking back on that column, I don't think I'd write it the same way. I'd say that at the end of the day, you being there is more important than what you'll say. Maybe you'll say the right thing, maybe you won't. Maybe you won't, or can't, say anything. And it doesn't matter. A shoulder to cry on doesn't have to fit perfectly. It just has to be there.