When Words are Futile

afterlife/Shelly Paul
Image by Shelly Paul

What do you tell someone who lost a loved one recently? How do you console someone in bereavement when, even the most eloquent of words seems trite and superfluous? These were the questions that arose in my mind when I rang up my cousin, who had just lost his father.

Although not very close, my uncle was a permanent part of the childhood memories of my summer vacations. His departure was sudden and came as a shock to me. So one can imagine the blow it dealt to his immediate family – my aunt and cousins. On the day before his unexpected demise, he spent most of the day in the house of his eldest son, who invited his siblings and their families, at his father’s request.

When I heard the news, I knew I had to call him to offer my condolences. That’s when I realized that I had nothing to say. There were no words that I could find that would help ease the suffering or even offer small comfort. Listening helped some. But how does one cope with such a huge loss?

Over the years, I have had friends who have lost loved ones – parents, siblings, spouses. Their losses have been irreparable. Long after the intensity of the pain has passed the wounds are sometimes unhealed. Even after years, some of them cannot talk about the missed one without melancholy clouding their faces or without their voices getting heavy with sorrow. As their friend, I stand helplessly listening to what they have to say with little else to offer as comfort.

The religion and its rituals may help restore a semblance of normalcy. But, the effect of such a loss is profound and prolonged. It affects every aspect of life from there on out. Everything one does and does not do, bears some reflection of that close personal loss, occasionally changing life’s trajectory.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend, years ago. It was some months after she had lost her mother to cancer – after a long, hard and draining fight. While she was talking about her mother’s loss she said to me that there was no way one could cope with such a huge loss. There was no way, she said, that the vacuum in her heart, could ever be filled for the rest of her life.

So, I wonder if there is anything one could really say to another in bereavement.


One thought on “When Words are Futile

  1. well written! i wanted to share something a friend related to me about an incident of personal loss and about how her niece expressed her sorrow for the uncle who had just lost his sister to cancer. she wrote “uncle jim, i would be very said if jack (her own older brother) died and so i know how sad you must feel and i am sorry. i love you and i loved aunty very much.” somehow when a child says something, it just comes across as so much more meaningful because children can still be courageous and speak from their heart, whereas some adults have learned the manner of speaking as if they were in front of a microphone. anything we say from the heart like we mean it can, even with a few words, express more about just how saddened we are about the loss, than a prepared line or two that might have been reread and heard before.


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