It’s hard not to keep score. In the weeks after my mother’s death, messages of sympathy flooded in, both electronically and handwritten. Sifting through them every night after work, I often found myself wondering about the people from whom I didn’t hear. The list is peppered with individuals from all areas of my life; the only common thread they have is that their names weren’t scrawled on a sympathy card or signed at the end of an email. While I wish I could tell you that I’ve been the better person and learned to count the blessing of all the names that crossed my desk, there is still a lingering hurt.
One card arrived later than the others, weeks after the messages tapered. It was stationery rather a sympathy card, and in her beautiful handwriting my dear friend wrote,
“This is card #4 because I can’t seem to find the ‘right’ thing to say to express my sincere sympathy for your mother’s passing.”
I understand the vacuous space of wanting to say exactly the right thing to a person and not having the right words. I also understand in many cases there are no right words and, most often, it’s enough to have someone acknowledge the difficult situation. From death of a loved one to a challenging situation at work, we have all felt the aching of not knowing what words will heal or help.
Women in particular seem to want to have the right words, to be the right person, to be present in a meaningful way. Is it the societal influence that women should be caretakers? Is it because we have a genuine desire to say or do something to help?
Conversations about of mental health in student affairs professionals last week on Twitter reiterated what I was already feeling – our fear of saying the wrong thing often prevents us from saying anything – as people described not addressing concerning behaviors in colleagues because they didn’t want to offend.
Amazing things happen when we let our guard down and reach out because – I assure you – no one has actually ever been offended by sincere care and concern. When we overcome our own need to find the right words and just use the ones we have in the best way we know how, even if it’s to say, “I’m sorry I don’t know what to say right now,” we’ve made ourselves present for someone else.
Who haven’t you reached out to recently because you don’t think you have the right words? Who is wishing they heard from you because you’re exactly the person they need in this moment?
Today I challenge you – say something. Anything.