Dig Baton Rouge

EAST OF THE RIVER

By Katie East

What do you say when dealing with death? It’s very common to be at a loss of what to say after experiencing a loss. Death makes people uncomfortable and often people regret how they dealt with it.
Most people have difficulty processing their emotions in everyday life. Facing something as traumatic as death makes people clam up and overanalyze every word. Sometimes, that fear can paralyze people. Take it from me, saying anything is better than saying nothing.
A friend of mine since I was in the second grade passed away this week. She was such an amazing person, someone who was always happy and made a difference to every person she met.
Last week, I contemplated a letter I wanted to write to her. Though I hadn’t seen her in years, I wanted to let her know that she had been in my thoughts while she was in hospice care. I wanted her to know that her life had meant something, that her kindness touched people long after she was with them.
While I struggled with finding the perfect words, she passed away. I failed her because I was wrapped up in my own distress and I said nothing.
Now, I’m attempting to write something to her parents. It’s even more difficult to think of what to say to now that she’s gone. What do you say to good people when they’ve experienced a tragedy?
The classic, “I’m sorry for your loss,” is sometimes the most appropriate. When in doubt, say this. It’s always acceptable, especially when you don’t know the departed well or even at all.
I’ve attended several funerals of people I didn’t really know to support someone else I was close with who was suffering. I have held steadfast to the theory it’s always better to go then to regret it later.
Funerals aren’t fun, but you have to set aside what’s uncomfortable for you and think about how your friend is feeling. Every time I have gone to a funeral to show support I knew it was the right decision when I looked into my friend’s eyes. They always had a thankful look of relief, just happy to see a familiar face.
If you’re ever contemplating “Would it be weird if I went to his/her funeral?” The answer is no, it would not be weird. As long as you don’t have any restraining orders against the deceased or you’re not just crashing the funeral to get free finger sandwiches, you should go.
Just showing up to a funeral is enough; you don’t have to say anything. A hug or just making sympathetic eye contact can let someone know you care. Your presence is enough.
“It’s all part of God’s plan,” is another thing you will here during bereavement. I know religion can really help people through such a difficult time. This statement seems callous to me though.
Saying the tragic death of a young women and new mother is part of a specific plan sounds like God took the time to specifically smite her to teach the rest of us some lesson. That’s unfair.
Say something more along the lines of “God works in mysterious ways.” Then at least you’re admitting you don’t know why this terrible thing happened; you have faith your higher power has the answers you can’t possibly understand.
From the less religious folk you might hear: “Everything happens for a reason.” This is what you say to someone when they don’t get the promotion they want. Not what you say when a genuinely good person dies at a young age. Sorry, but I think that’s just insensitive.
I truly believe everything does happen for a reason and at the right time. I don’t think death is the time to remind people of that though. I also believe in karma but you don’t hear people saying “Well, karma’s a bitch!” when someone passes.
Stock phrases might get you through an uncomfortable moment at a funeral. What’s important though, is that you’re there.
If you have that feeling creep up in you and you’re not sure how to express your sympathy, go with your gut and say how you feel. Say anything. Be truthful and sincere, or forever hold your peace.

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