Two Little Words

Being a decent writer is a useful skill -- like when writing witty status updates for Facebook and Twitter, for example. But there's one area where it does nothing for me: telling the people closest to me how I feel. I already knew this, but really felt it when a friend recently lost a loved one.

I wanted to send this friend a note, but when I sat down at the keyboard, no words would come. Suddenly I was no longer this person's friend; I was a Writer. I felt this pressure to say just the right thing, something that would ease my friend's suffering and let them know how sad I was for them. Something deep, poetic, profound. I started and stopped several times, but everything I typed sounded pretentious, or preachy or like something you've read in a thousand different sympathy cards. At the time, I talked to this person practically every day, about everything from work to relationships. So why was this so hard?

I realized a couple of things. First, I was trying to imitate everything well-intentioned people say to you when you lose someone. About the person being in a better place, about there being a plan, etc, etc. Maybe all that's true, but it never helps me when I'm grieving. All I know is I'm hurting. Talking to me about some larger plan just makes me feel selfish or wrong for being sad.

Secondly, my friend and I didn't have that kind of relationship. We didn't sit around and wax poetic, or talk about the meaning of life and death and suffering or anything like that. We talked about pop culture. We complained about coworkers. On occasion we exchanged very inappropriate jokes. If I tried to pretend I had answers or insights into why bad things happen, it would just seem insincere.

Yes, I did finally send a note. What did I say? The only thing that wouldn't seem preachy or insincere, the one thing that couldn't be misconstrued, the one thing that would simply express empathy: "I'm sorry."


  1. Also, just being there for someone who lost someone is what they need. You can't say you know how they feel because quite likely you don't. Just sit with them. Write them a short note. Take them some food. When there is a deep loss, just being there for them in some fashion often means the most. A simple note might be what you can do.

  2. I agree, Mark. Too often we feel a need to "fix" something for someone when they're in pain, when in reality all we can do, and all they may want, is for us just to let them know we care.