phrases that need to die: i'm sorry for your loss16 Apr 2021
preface: i wrote this angry. at some point in the future, after the anger subsides, i may transform this into a more generous piece. until then, it is what it is. ^_^
so as i’ve been tending to the grief of my nephew becoming an ancestor, i have heard the phrase “i’m so sorry for your loss” many times.
and you know what? i’m sick of it. it makes truly, truly me angry.
now, of course, anger is normal as a part of grieving. and it can go in all sorts of directions. i’ve felt it towards myself, my recently passed nephew, patriarchy, america and our car culture, and more.
but as i continue to move through my own stages of grieving, the more this phrase is grating on me.
i’m still working way through all the reasons why but here’s what i’ve got so far:
- it’s not a meaningful apology. as i read, learn, and continue to practice in the space of community accountability and transformative justice, the importance of real apologies continues to grow. in this culture, we mostly don’t know how to apologize. and to make matters worse, we apologize for things we have no business apologizing for, undermining all apologies.
according to mia mingus, “a writer, educator and trainer for transformative justice and disability justice,” a good apology has five parts. almost none of these make sense when someone dies. most specifically: you (most likely) didn’t do anything to lead to the death.
it’s mostly about the speaker, not about the receiver. the phrase centers the person speaking. which is unhelpful at best and inconsiderate at worst. why would you come to me, a person presumably hurting, and center yourself by telling me about you being sorry?
where it does mention me, the receiver, it’s about “my loss.” but… truly… what does that mean?
3b. it doesn’t take into account any awareness of my actual relationship to the person. what if we had a really hard or abusive relationship? what if i’m grateful that they are gone? or what if they were someone who was ready to pass and everyone is happier now? or what if i don’t see it as a loss at all? what if my spiritual/religious tradition frames death as the beginning of a next phase of something?
overall, it’s just a generally unthoughtful phrase that feels counter to the intention of most speakers.
i don’t know how this phrase got to be so wide spread but it feels like another one of those phrases that is just meaningless but pervasive.
as i grieve, i have heard several things that have been excellent alternatives:
- it makes me so sad to hear that.
- what was their name?
- do you need anything to help you grieve? candles? plants? poems? songs? can i just leave them on your porch (so that my gift isn’t perceived as an exchange by which i will require an offering of a piece of your poured out soul via the question “how are you”)?
- is there someone coordinating support for you? can you direct me to them? if not, can i be that person for you? you can have people reach out to me by [email/phone/text/whatsapp]. here’s a message you can copy paste if it helps: “hi thank you for your concern. i am overwhelmed by grief and a friend is helping me coordinate support. if you want to support me, please connect with [name] by [emailing/texting/whatever] and ask them how you can best me of support to me. thank you.”
- i’m guessing you already have people close to you supporting you right now. if you don’t, know that i’m here for a phone call just to listen or have a conversation if you want
ok some of those i made up but they’re still better than the typical things we have been taught to say in our avoidant-af culture.
one last related thought: another thing i dislike is people who are not that close reaching out with the “omg i just want to check in on you. how are you? tell me everything about the person who just died.” like… we haven’t had a meaningful connective conversation with me in months/years. why would i be interested in talking about this very hard moment now when we don’t even have a baseline channel of communication? i would much prefer “hey i know we haven’t talked in a while but i care about you and hope you’re getting what you need from people who are close to you now. if you need anything from me, know that i’m here and can offer a listening ear, a meal, or [insert other very specific thing in your capacity to offer].”
phew! can you tell i have feelings about this stuff? lol
ok there is more to this but… for later.
words / writing / post-processing
830w / 30min / ??min