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Let me be straightforward: You simply cannot express true condolences via a text message, nor can you express your deepest sympathy for someone’s loss using social media. This is especially true for someone you consider to be your friend. It is almost like a slap in the face to read a text message offering condolences from someone you’ve spent your entire adolescent life with. Don’t get me wrong, it is the thought that counts, but it’s also the lack of thought that is most apparent in these type of messages. If you can send a few words telling that person you regret their loss, this means that you also have the ability to call them up and express that verbally, but you just chose not to.

When I think of how people casually express their sympathy via social media, it reminds me of the way in which people use ‘lol,’ the acronym for laugh out loud. In most cases, people type ‘lol’ without even thinking, and in real life, many of us are hardly even cracking a smile. This is exactly how much meaning your virtual message of condolences has to a person who has to endure the real pain of losing someone they love.

Before my own father died recently, I treated people this way too. Sometime last year, one of the people I follow on Instagram posted a photo of her late father with a short passage about how much he meant to her. At that time, not knowing that my own father was ill with cancer, my knee-jerk reaction was to drop a quick line underneath the picture and let her know that I would be “praying for you.” It took me less than a minute to forget about her post and continue with my Instagram rounds of liking pictures of lunches, workout routines, cute shoes and the random outfit of the day. I forgot to pray for her too.

If I knew then what I know now, I would know that her decision to post that photo on Instagram was an indication that she may be in need of some compassion. If I had her number I would have called her and I wouldn’t let the fact that I didn’t have her number stop me from messaging her and asking her for it. And if she was not a phone person and we were close enough, or used to be close at one point in our lives, I would have showed up at her home. I wouldn’t expect that I would call her and have all the answers, nor would I expect her to feel any better after visiting with me, but I know that in moments where I feel the most down about my father, that’s usually the time I feel most lonely.

‘Friends’ aren’t the only ones who struggle with being sympathetic at such a sad time…

At first, my fiancé was terrible at expressing his sympathy. This is the man that I’ve been sleeping next to every night for almost seven years, but he didn’t know how to approach me after the death of my father. One day I was feeling particularly down and started crying in the kitchen. I wasn’t doing any ordinary crying either. I was doing the heaving cries that come from your soul. His only response was that “You have to pull yourself together. Your father is in a better place.”

I know that he was only trying to help, but his cliché response made matters worse. Sometimes we underestimate the power of just existing with a person while they are going through such a moment. You don’t have to ignore them, nor do you need to be overbearing, but sometimes it helps to just sit down and be silent with them. Be present. Be a listener. Be a shoulder to cry on without feeling the need to pull out a quote worthy of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

My fiancé was so bad at supporting me through this loss at first that a week or so after the death of my father, he honestly expected me to pick back up where we left off. I had days where I was all over the place like a little maniac, cleaning and doing everything I was supposed to do on time with extra minutes to spare. But still, I was broken apart and just trying different ways to manage my grief. He took this as an indication that I was feeling better and wanted answers about when we would be intimate again.

I was furious.

I’m sure that he just simply wanted this grief-stricken psychopath out of his house and expected that his darling fiancée would be back as quickly as possible, but it’s important to be very patient with people during times of grief. You see us standing tall and even smiling sometimes, but deep down inside, there is a heart that is broken. I think the best thing we can do for one another when someone has experienced a loss is recognize that this is a universal experience that none of us will be able to get out of. There will come a time that you will be on the receiving end of the “sorry for your loss” texts and social media posts. The next time you hear of someone you know losing somebody they care about, remember your humanity and express yourself from a genuine place, because in time, you would want somebody to do the same for you.

Death can be uncomfortable. In many ways, whenever someone I knew that was close to me was faced with a major loss, or even someone I was just acquainted with, it was a reminder of my own mortality and mortality is an uncomfortable thing to think about. We get uncomfortable being in the presence of a woman who has lost her child, especially when, in my case, you have two children that you can’t imagine being without for even two minutes, let alone the rest of your life. It’s difficult to know what to say to a person who has experienced this kind of loss, but I think that you should reach out and touch them in any way you can. But whatever you do, be genuine about it.


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