My father had an extensive community of friends. He cherished his relationships; telling me once that his friends were the most important people in his life.
So when he died unexpectedly, his friends poured in the doors of our church to attend his calling. They lined up down the hall and waited outside to get in and see us—his surviving family. They stood for hours (or so it seemed) to hug my mom, sisters and me. They mingled around the room talking about their sense of shock—and recollecting the last time they’d seen him. Some had played golf with him just the week before. How could this be—they wondered out loud.
And while they were there to comfort us, comfort one another, I was amazed and distressed by the words they offered me.
For example, many had not seen me for years. I lived in another state—and when I visited home, I rarely saw my parent’s friends. So it seemed crazy to me that so many felt the need to comment on my weight. I can’t tell you how many people told me I’d lost weight. One woman even argued with me that in her eyes I’d lost A LOT of weight.
On a day that felt terrible, surreal, inexplicable to me… on a day when I felt I could barely breathe…. why were so many people talking to me about my weight??
It took me a long time to recover from the words spoken to me that day. Not only was the day itself traumatic enough—but the things people said cut even more deeply into the rawness of the day.
I’ve been present in such moments myself—in the fresh moment when a family has learned that their loved one has died. Now I have great compassion and understanding for what that moment is like; when the pain is overwhelming… the words of muddling through it with another are not always what one intends. I have felt the pain of saying the wrong thing.saying something at the wrong time… and the sorrow of regretting my own words.
Instead of holding those friends of my father’s hostage to the words they spoke to me I’ve learned to practice grace about it. Did they do the best they could at the time? Did they think they were saying something meaningful to me? Did they even know what they were saying??
Did I do the best I could at the time? Did I think I was saying something comforting or meaningful? Did I even, in my own distress, know what I was saying??
When I think of these words or of these difficult moments—at the bedside of a family and their loved one, at my father’s funeral, I can practice giving kindness to those who spoke the words. Kindness and grace to their own shocked experience of losing one of the first friends in their peer group. I can consider their words with a softer, forgiving heart; and I hope I can offer that same compassion to myself.
For I too, will surely, again say the wrong thing. I won’t say it perfectly—but hopefully, I will say it with the best love I have to offer in that moment.