Clichés

A current client (call him “Bill”) is grieving the loss of a loved one (call her “Jane”) who had been suffering greatly for years with severe emotional problems. Jane’s tragic and dramatic passing need not be discussed here. Nor is Bill’s grief the topic of this article.

The reason for writing is to address an error that many people make at such times. Bill, having known Jane all her life, and despite his sincerest efforts to help, may not have given her the help and encouragement she needed. Rather, when he talked to her about her problems, he often used clichés. Whether he used the following or did not use them is not relevant. You may have heard some of these platitudes: “Everything happens for a reason.” “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “Happiness is a choice.” “So many people have it much worse.”

When people are in deep emotional pain, this kind of talk is the last thing they need to hear. What they need is for someone to be fully present, genuine and compassionate. Advice, typically, is neither welcome nor useful. Tired old phrases are impersonal. They show a kind of laziness of thought, an inability to relate directly and honestly and to share the burden of the sufferer. Instead, the speaker, not knowing what to do or say, resorts to explaining what is happening or why it’s happening.

Many years ago, the mother of my mom’s best friend, Helen, passed away at the age of ninety. After the funeral, Helen told me that she could not help but be irritated by the clichés that people uttered at the funeral. “Well, she lived to a nice old age.” Helen told me that such words seemed to mean that it’s alright that mom died. She was old. As Helen said, “What’s the difference? It’s my mother!” It didn’t hurt any less that she lived a long life.

When we face such situations, as we surely must, we can keep this in mind. In some cases, it may not be necessary to say anything at all, other than words of connection and support. Refrain from expressions such as, “I understand how you feel”, or any such nonsense. Don’t make it about you. Just be with the person, offer affection and promise of help and support if it’s needed. Above all, be real.

For more thoughts click here Compassion

Thanks for reading!