When a Simple “I’m Sorry” Works
Recently a WSJ writer lost both her parents. Megan Cox Gurdon, an author, is an only child who now finds herself an orphan in midlife. With her parents’ deaths, also gone are her childhood memories and “the remembered archives” of her parents’ marriage,” she mourns.
Until my parents died, I had no idea how welcome simplicity can be. A statement such as “Our hearts are with you” doesn’t feel canned when your heart is aching. It feels like consolation. Traditional condolences convey that the thing that’s happened is so profound that novelty is beside the point. In their accessibility, the standard phrases acknowledge the universality of loss. And, given their formulaic nature, they make possible a simple and painless response.
“Thank you, I really appreciate that,” I’ve said countless times these past weeks. And you know what? I’ve meant it every time. I really have appreciated the expression of fellow feeling. I really have appreciated people’s use of a compassionate shorthand that lets them off having to say something original and lets me off having to talk about how I’m feeling or to go into detail about how it all came about.
As a conservative, writes MCG, she should have known better.
It has taken many generations to refine the words of bereavement to an elegant sufficiency. I now understand that there’s no need to come up with a custom-designed remark when someone dies.
What sounds like a platitude will do nicely.
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