Many years ago a friend of mine was murdered at work. Her killer has never been found.
As far as I know, the police have never even uncovered a possible motive. She left a husband and two small boys.She and I were part of large group of friends who were in the habit of getting together nearly every week. Together, we grieved our loss.
Her death did not fit anyone’s expectations for the circle of life. Her children were still children. She wasn’t old. She wasn’t sick.
We expressed our grief over our loss openly with tears, and hugs, and intense moments of silence.
And with a lot of words. Words of shock and disbelief. Words of anger over what had happened and our inability to imagine a reason why. Words of sorrow and loss. Words of comfort and compassion. We expressed what we thought and what we felt. What we needed from others and what we could give to others. And yes, we resorted to the easy expressions that people fall back on when tragedy strikes.
Putting Your Feelings into Words
We said, “I don’t know what to say.” We tried to console ourselves with false ideas like, “Only the good die young.” We took our attention from the present by telling ourselves, “Her husband is young, he can marry again.” We tried to relieve our discomfort in witnessing her husband’s grief by saying, “You must be strong for your children.”
It’s easy to fall back on platitudes like these, or the catch-all phrase, “words cannot express.” It’s hard to think about how you feel, and how the other person feels, and then put words to those feelings. It’s not that the words don’t exist. English is word-rich. With more than a million words, it has possibly the most of any language. It was our own discomfort with our feelings or theirs that stopped us from providing comfort. It also stopped us from receiving the comfort we needed.
Why Your Words are Important
We knew that we needed the support, comfort, and involvement of our friends. We knew that despite our own grief, we needed to support and comfort each other too. We voiced those platitudes and did not feel comforted.
I cringe when I think back to some of my own statements.
It was only when we got past the platitudes and could talk about our disbelief, our anger and our loss that we began to work through our pain. It was in talking about her life, and the practical realities of her absence, that we began to find a way forward. It was only when we acknowledged what was in our hearts that our minds could find the words to express our emotions and thoughts.
Where You Find the Right Words
If you’re someone who thinks that you don’t know the words to express yourself in times of tragedy, if you’ve been frantically trying to remember how many of those awful platitudes you might have said, you’re probably wondering, how in the heck am I supposed to come up with something to say?
Let me share a secret with you. When you don’t know what to say, when you can’t find the words to express yourself, you’re looking in the wrong place.
You know where all those words we spoke came from? They didn’t come from our minds, but from our hearts.
You don’t know what to say because you don’t want to feel your feelings. Reach into your heart and touch your feelings. Trust in yourself to feel your feelings. When you’re open to feeling your feelings, the right words will begin to come to you. Slowly at first. Awkwardly. Imperfectly. But they will come. You will know what to say. You will find the words to express yourself.
Even while your words are imperfect, when they are honest about the here-and-now, about your feelings, about your grief, your words will tell others, I care. They will tell others, you are not alone, even though you feel that way right now.
Your words will comfort others, and you will be comforted.
Live Honest, Open and True
Words fail you only when you’re not willing to tap into your feelings and feel them. When you are open to experience your own feelings, you will find the words you need to share your own grief and to comfort others who are grieving. I believe in you and want the best for you and know you can achieve the best for yourself.
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What about you? Do you resort to platitudes when called upon to express your feelings? How do you tap into your feelings and put them into words when someone you love has died? Tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!