AI: Condolences


This week, a great friend of mine lost his teenage brother to leukemia. It would be the time for me to turn all my love for him in mute physical support that would allow him to unwind his pain in whatever way he could. But then… we’re about 800km (google says: about 500 miles) apart, so the best I can do is a phone call and there are really no words. None, at all.

He’d been updating us through his facebook page on his brother’s status, so there was a lot of commotion down there, and though I personally find it too cold a way to express your condolences, I went on to read what other people were posting to him, in the slim hope of finding words for what is to be the heavier most unpleasant phone call I will ever give him.

All I found was this:

“He’s in a better place with God now. You should let Him guide you through this difficult time, knowing that He’s good and taking care of that little angel now. Let Him give you the strength you need.”

Which just, you know, pissed me off. That’s empty. That means nothing. Why don’t you go comfort him? Why don’t you go be the strength he needs? Does leaving it all to God actually help anyone?

(This AI is way shakier than it should be, but…)

What do you say to someone in a situation like this? How can you make them truly feel your sorrow (or can’t you)? What words would you put in such a phone call? How would you deal with all the “it was God’s wish” crap?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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  1. A couple of years ago one of my best friends died of leukemia, too.

    Just before he died (he had been in remission) he posted to his FB that his cancer had come back and he only had a couple of weeks to live. Responses ranged from the all the usual goddy things to “Aw shit bro, you’ll pull through”. Both pissed me off so much. No, there was no pulling through this time.

    I knew that there was nothing I could say to him that would express how completely and utterly devastated I felt for him, so I ended up sending him the short and to-the-point message: “Just wanted to say how much it fucking sucks that your cancer is back, and [friend] and I are trying our hardest to get flights home to come visit you”. That was it. It was all I could do, I had no words either. I’ve never had to face my own mortality like that, and it did fucking suck.

    I never found the energy to deal with the god (or other well-intended but completely empty and insensitive) crap, and I honestly have no idea how to. If it were directed at *me* I’d probably be inclined to give people a piece of my mind, but it wasn’t so I didn’t. I figured a more worthwhile use of my energy was in trying to be a good friend to him and our other friends. So I’d say just ignore the crap and try to lend an ear to your friend. Sometimes it isn’t your particular words that matter, but letting them know that you care.

    Incidentally, my aunt once near-wrestled the minister off the stage at her (15yo) son’s funeral when he started getting a bit carried away talking about how miraculous god is. At a 15yo’s funeral. Miraculous. Ugh.

    All the best to your friend and his family.

  2. I’m really sorry to hear about your friend. It always sucks when people die.

    Personally I really don’t like the idea of taking any action whatsoever against those who use god or religion in their words of condolence. Simply put that’s how most people express their grief and it’s really not the time to start a pissing match over personal world views.

    I think we should all express our condolences and support in the ways we feel best and leave it to the bereaved to decide what is appropriate for them.

    There are time to have discussions about faith and there are times that we just need to give our friends a big hug and help them in any way we can. Rarely, if ever, will that include a flame war.

  3. “I think we should all express our condolences and support in the ways we feel best and leave it to the bereaved to decide what is appropriate for them. ”

    Problem is, if it’s inappropriate, you might inflict more suffering on an already devastated person.
    I really, really don’t need to spare the religious feelings of people who tell me all about god and heaven although they know that I don’t believe and have just lost a loved one.
    It would be horribly inappopriate for an atheist to walk over to a grieving believer and tell them “I’m sorry for your loss, it sucks that this is all over now and we’ll never see him again”.

    And answering the question.
    “I’m sorry for your loss” is never wrong.
    Have an open ear and a telephine flatrate. I once spent several hours on the phone with a friend who’d just lost her aunt. She couldn’t go to see her family that night, I couldn’t go to keep her company, but I could stay on the phone and listen to her saying nothing.
    She said it really helped, because it had taken away that feeling of utter lonelyness.

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