Grief: When the Words Won’t Come

First the platitudes, then the practical help. Then, finally, the words.

Shelly McIntosh
Dec 5, 2019 · 4 min read
Image by Sue Rickhuss from Pixabay

Sometimes we don’t have words. They won’t come. They are needed, desperately needed, to make sense of a part of the human experience. Yet they don’t come.

The words have come to some but perhaps, like the rest of us, they didn’t come in the moment. They came later, after the first rush of helplessness had faded a little. I am choosing to believe that.

My friend’s adult nephew died this week. He was in his 30s. It was unexpected. It was quick. It was devastating.

It is often said no one should bury their child. It is unnatural. That is true.

It happens. That is also true.

Why is it, since this happens, since we know this happens, why have we not come up with something better to say when it does?

The reason, perhaps, is that it can’t be prepared for. If it was, it would be “borrowing trouble.” Besides, who would want to imagine such a thing?

I consider myself a writer. Little “w.” Not the big “W.” Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Attwood can claim the big “W.” I claim the little one.

Even a writer who only claims the little one should have something useful or helpful to say when confronted by the collective grief of their friends and loved ones. When experiencing their own.

Maybe I have it all wrong. Because grief causes a hollowing out through a person’s center, because it is no emotion and all emotions at the same exact moment, because, because, because…

Because there are reasons that are difficult to describe with words, the words don’t come. Won’t come. Not right away. Not in time to be helpful.

What are we to do then? How do we help?

We stand ready. We say the same old words that feel too little. Too small. Not enough for the depth of pain.

“I am thinking of you.”

“Please let me know if there is anything I can do.”

There are promises to pray and to hold them in our thoughts.

Sometimes, with incredibly bad timing but the best of intentions, there are murmurs of “God’s plan.”

None of it does much to actually help. If your friend, your loved one, needs you, they know you are there for them. You don’t need to say it. But you do. What else can you say?

I try to go practical. Asking what I can do. Offering rides and casseroles. Making phone calls. Sometimes it helps. Not enough, not nearly enough.

Always it is a thing I can do until my brain connects my heart with my mouth. Until I find words to say that are more than platitudes.

More than “I am thinking of you.” My version of “I will pray for you,” because, you see, I don’t pray.

I am no good if you need a prayer. I am excellent if you need phone calls, transportation, casseroles delivered, or a hug.

I’m not a natural hugger but in times of need, I will hug you as long and as hard as necessary. I will hug the stuffing out of you.

I will sit with you and chatter about nothing. Or I will sit quietly at your side if all you want is to know someone is there with you. I am that person. I have your back.

And then the words come. The words that all the unnecessary words were saying. What all the casseroles and phone calls were expressing.

“I love you. I am here. Whatever you want, whatever you need, I am here.”

Gratefully Yours

Stories about life, relationships, writing, poetry, and finding gratitude in the most unusual places.

Shelly McIntosh

Written by

Writes about life and relationships. Cats feature prominently in her satire pieces.

Gratefully Yours

Stories about life, relationships, writing, poetry, and finding gratitude in the most unusual places.

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