I hate hearing the phrase “I’m sorry for your loss.” It annoys the living [insert obscenity of choice] out of me.
I’m totally sick of hearing it
For starters, I have heard some variation of the phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” at least once a week for the last three and half years. That means I have heard it at lease four hundred times. That doesn’t include the hundreds you hear in the first year. That in itself is draining. Someone may ask or see a picture of my daughter, or I could be telling an anecdote, or I could just be out and about at a bar. It is natural to assume that as young as I am, my four-year-old daughter has a living mother. I get that. There will be a comment referring to Cydney’s mom, either directly, in the form of, “Where’s her mother?” Or indirectly – the usual ribbing about stressful wives… Hell, you name a casual scenario and it eventually comes up. As an honest person, I’ve replied, “Her mother passed away.”
It’s a conversation killer
The jovial conversation abruptly ends with a somber face and an “Ohh, I’m sorry for your loss.” When I can, I quickly bring the conversation back before someone can inquire, “How did she die?” But about about fifty percent of the time I wind up having to say, “She died from cancer.” Here’s the usual exchange after that:
Person: Oh man! How old was you daughter when she died?
Me: Nine months.
Person: Oh my God!
Me: [Inaudible noise because I have heard it all before and I want to have a regular conversation without bringing up something depressing.]
Of course, I have also accepted that this is just part of my life. The truth is that I am raising a motherless preschooler and I have begun making a living jotting down the joys and pains of being a single father. It makes a good story, I get that…but I don’t like being reminded of it so often. You get used to having the same conversation over and over, but that doesn’t mean that you want to. Maybe I want to be “normal” and not have to talk about or refer to death so often.
It’s fairly meaningless
Saying “I’m sorry for your loss” is like saying “Good morning” or “Have a good weekend” to your coworkers. Are you sincerely wishing them a good morning or actively hoping that their days off from work are pleasant? Not really. You just say the words because they are the right thing to say. I don’t think much of saying “Good morning” when I get to work. In fact, people don’t even look up from whatever they are doing to reply and I’m not even looking at anyone when I exchange the pleasantry.
It puts up a wall
I hate the stock condolence phrase not just because it’s become rote and meaningless, but because combines pity with distancing: I’m sorry for your loss. More often than not, the person’s posture changes. They’re initially talking to you with their shoulders squared and making eye contact. It shifts to a slouch, a brief moment of looking down, and a different look in their eyes when they’re talking to you. They might as well physically take a step backward.
It’s unwanted pity
“I’m sorry for your loss” turns a casual conversation at work about my cute four-year-old into a pity party – one that I don’t want to be invited to. I don’t miss my daughter’s mother like that. The only times that I do are within the context of Cydney, who has been deprived of arguably the most important person in her life. There will be a major accomplishment and I will think, “I know her mother would be very proud.” And then I’m back in the moment.
It doesn’t fit our reality
Cydney has moments where it’s clear to us all that she’s missing a mother, but she mostly operates as if her circumstances are the norm. She doesn’t remember Mommy – all she knows is Daddy. I’m not perfect; but between my mother and me, we do an incredible job with Cydney. My daughter is an amazing girl – not pitiful at all. So since Cyd and I aren’t pitying ourselves, I don’t want someone else to do it – even if it is a polite, knee-jerk response.
It’s often insincere
I have heard condolences so many times that I know the different tones and inflections – I can tell if it is heartfelt or not. Most of the time when people say it, it is just because they feel the right thing to say. They mean well. And I am aware that what people say and how I interpret them are two different things. But once again, I have heard “I’m sorry” in every way it can be said in the English language. I can tell when it’s sincere.
…but maybe we’re stuck with it.
So what should people say about the loss that happened, at this point, years ago? In my perfect world, they’d say nothing. But of course, that won’t happen. Expressing condolences is the polite thing to do. I’ll admit I’d notice if it stopped, the way I do if someone doesn’t say good morning. I’m used to the routine of hearing it, like that annoying habit someone has that you just learn to live with.
In spite of how things have turned out, my daughter is an amazing little girl. At four years, she is an incredible soccer player. She’s very smart and and she’s an old soul, always saying something quotable that makes me think “She’s been here before.” I always say that God knows when He made us when He’s going to take us, so I’m not sorry for our loss… this is the way it was supposed to be.
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