I'm Sorry

My friend called to share some heartbreaking news. She had been to the doctor and had learned that she would not be able to have children. A dream she had nurtured for years had died a sudden and unexpected death. She was devastated and I was devastated for her.

I felt profoundly sad and powerless. I, the verbose writer, was at a loss for words. I waded through the clich├ęs and platitudes that flooded my brain, desperate to find the one comforting phrase that would buoy my friend’s sinking spirits. “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window,” just didn’t seem enough.

I could not conjure the words that would illuminate the mystery or lessen the inequity of her infertile status. She cried uncontrollably, questioned her purpose on the planet, and beseeched me to explain why this terrible thing was happening to her.

I didn’t have the answers. All I could do was cry along with her and repeatedly utter, “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.”
Listening to my friend’s soul-wracking sobs reminded me of another time I had felt utterly useless and at a loss for the right words.

A year before, on a warm, summer evening, as the glowing sun slipped silently behind the distant mountains, one of our neighbors, a venerated community leader, ended his life by pressing a handgun to his chest and pulling the trigger. Although he was not a close, personal friend of mine, he had been the charming, gregarious sort of man who greeted every neighbor, coworker, and acquaintance by name, drawing them in with his sparkling blue eyes and beaming smile. He made a point of stopping his vehicle everytime he saw me walking my dog. “How are you, Leah? And how is Porthos?” he would ask. Sometimes this busy, important man would get out of his car and scratch behind my beast’s ears.  He would grin from ear to ear, laughing like a boy with a new puppy.

As I stood in line to give my condolences to his bright, attractive, equally-charming widow, I grasped for the words that would convey my sympathy. I wanted to say something about the great sense of loss we were all struggling with, but thought it would sound ridiculous. After all, wasn’t she well aware of the gaping hole her husband’s absence had torn in the fabric of our lives? So, I muttered something that was wholly inadequate. I said, “I am sorry for your loss. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. I am here for you.”

I walked away with the memory of her hollow eyes, down-turned lips, and tear stained cheeks emblazoned in my memory, feeling like a failure because I did not speak the words that would ease her suffering.

What is it about tragedy that strips otherwise self-assured people of their confidence, leaving them exposed and vulnerable? I have no problem striking up conversations with complete strangers. I can spend hours chatting on the phone, over the fence, or on Facebook. I create worlds with words for a living. Yet, I find it painfully difficult to compose a coherent sentence in the face of another’s suffering.

Why is that?

I guess it is because I have a deep compulsion to fix things that are broken. I don’t sit idly by, accepting that things are not working. I search until I find the solutions. 

Sometimes, like when a friend discovers she can’t ever have children or when someone you know commits suicide, there are no simple fixes, no soothing phrases to apply, like salve to a wound.

Sometimes, all you can do is say, “I am sorry. I care. And, I am here for you.”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

“I am sorry. I care. And, I am here for you.”