By Vivian Blevins
10/7, 10/24. 9/11, and on all other days, death comes calling. And we want to reach out to demonstrate to those who are impacted that we have noticed their losses.
We, however, fear that we will say something that doesn’t help, that might even deepen the pain of those who are grieving. Do we, for example, say “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” thrusting our own beliefs on someone who is grieving as we attempt to navigate this treacherous territory. Even more offensive to those same people is “God was calling her home.”
Something we hear frequently is the following, “If you need anything, just let me know” as opposed to offering specific measures of assistance such as offering to walk their dog or water their plants or provide transportation or provide a meal on a specific day.
America’s last mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, left 18 dead in a town of fewer than 40,000. Many knew the deceased, including the shooter. What does a friend of the family of Robert Card say to them?
I asked a long-time friend who lives in Jerusalem with her husband, their oldest son and his family, to comment on the current Israeli war with Hamas ( My friend and her husband were also living in Israel at the time of the Arab-Israeli War of 1973).
She writes, “We’re all deeply affected by the horrific events of October 7th, when Hamas terrorists massacred innocent people in Israel. Two weeks ago, I paid a condolence call to my neighbor down the hall. Her great grandson was among the victims at a music festival. It’s unbearable to see the deep pain and anguish of the families and friends of the victims.
“Yesterday, after over two weeks of uncertainty, a friend’s 30-year-old son’s body was finally identified among those found at the festival. The only consolation was that a companion reported seeing him shot. Mutilation was after death.
“The sheer brutality is incomprehensible. I’m numb. I did not know what to say to the mourners.
“And what would I say to the families of those Thai men killed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad? They only came here to work, to send money home to their families. They may well have worked alongside Gazans who used to come into Israel to work each day. Death upon death from men who hide among hostages and behind their own people.”
In September of this year, I listened to John and Bev Titus discuss the death of their daughter, Alicia, on 9/11. She was a flight attendant aboard United Airlines 175 that was crashed by terrorists into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I read John’s book, “Losing Alicia: A Father’s Journet after 9/11,” written over a period of 10 years following 9/11 as a way of processing his grief. But the grief of both John and Bev is always there. And John details in his book some of the responses to Alicia’s death, some helpful, some not.
Recently, three months ago, I attended a funeral service for the youngest daughter of one of my former Urbana College students, Susan Armour-Tesno. I sat beside her and we cried.
Susan writes, ”The ‘great empathetic lie’ is ‘I know how you feel.’ A more appropriate comment would be, ‘I remember how I felt when (Fill in the blank) died.’”
She continues, “While John Titus and I have experienced the death of a daughter, I cannot even begin to imagine what he and his wife experienced in having their girl die in a terrorist attack. I had time with Katherine, but I felt helpless and, in truth, hopeless most of the time because we knew we weren’t likely to get our miracle. And as a mother, I felt helpless because I couldn’t fix it, couldn’t kiss her and make it all right as I did when she was a teeny girl.
“Sometimes the most comforting thing was having her friend cry with me, no words, just tears.”
Does this help, make you aware of the need to take care in what you say, let you know that all of us are stymied when death comes calling? They help me and touch my heart in a way that my words are inadequate to express.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected].