My grandmother died last December and while my family and I knew her death was inevitable due to illness, the fact that she was gone hit harder than we could have imagined. She was the matriarch of the family, had a good sense of humor, a classic style of dress, and a sassiness very few could match. I loved her dearly.
Fortunately for me, up until 2013, I hadn’t experienced the death of a loved one. Although my brother passed away 25 years ago, I was too young to understand what happened. But as a young woman in her twenties, I knew exactly what it meant when someone dies. It means they are never coming back in flesh. And that, for anyone, is a hard pill to swallow.
I deal with life’s curveballs and downturns differently than most. You may find me smiling when you think I should be crying. You may find me organizing my sock drawer instead of opening up about how devastated I am about what has happened. You may even find me laughing uncontrollably with relatives about something totally unrelated to what has happened. Sometimes creating a distraction is the only way I can survive another day.
Breaking the news to my friends wasn’t easy, but I knew that even though I didn’t show it, I needed their support now more than ever. Death is something that no one is comfortable speaking about, so I can only imagine how my friends felt when I broke the news to them. And they were very supportive. I greatly appreciated it.
One friend, in particular, came to my home as soon as she heard what happened. And do you know what she did? Nothing. She just sat next to me on the couch and listened to whatever I wanted to talk about. While I appreciated the outpouring of “I’m sorry to hear about your loss” that people recite when they hear about a tragedy, this particular friend’s presence was more comforting than any amount of words she could have offered. Then, she told me something that made us bond even closer than before. She told me that her grandmother had passed 2 years ago.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the friend who experienced the same tragedy as me a couple years ago was the most comforting to me in my time of need. She understood what I really needed was a listening ear, not a bunch of encouraging words. She understood that asking me to call her if I needed anything wasn’t as comforting as just sitting next to me in silence. She understood what I was going through. She knew exactly how I felt and she knew how to be there for me more than anyone else could at the time.
You see, that’s the gift of tragedy: knowing how to comfort someone in their time of need. I often get annoyed with people who make insensitive remarks about people in unfortunate situations. But recently, I’ve learned to step back and review the person’s experience and background. Typically, the people who say the wrong things lack experience. On the other hand, the person who has seen tragedy tend to be the most sensitive and compassionate. For instance, I had a friend simply send me this text when she heard the news:
“I know you probably don’t feel like talking about it right now. I can just imagine the amount of I’m sorry’s you’re getting. But when you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen. I love you.”
To this day, that text message remains the best I have ever read.
For those of you dealing with life’s not-so-flattering moments, I’m not going to say that I fully understand everything you’re going through, but I do understand this: your experience will leave you with a gift. That gift will enable you to comfort and help someone else in your own unique way. The positive influence that you will one day make on someone’s life will be incredible. It sucks now, but I promise it won’t suck forever.