Wrinkled Wisdom: Death and the Tone-Deaf

In the 1980 movie Fame, the theme song included the lyrics: “I’m gonna live forever.” The British rock band Queen took the opposite tact in their 1986 song “Who Wants to Live Forever?”

The book of Genesis claims that Noah lived to be 950 years old and that Adam lived to be 930.  At odds with those numbers, the bible quotes the Lord saying, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

Who knew?  Right on!  Recent research indicates that the maximum life spans for humans are now projected to be between 120 and 150 years. OMG! That’s a lot of social security dollars and makes IRAs look pretty useless.

Living longer also means attending a lot more funerals. That made us think. Kudos to those who warn friends, who have recently lost a loved one, to prepare for the tone-deaf comments that unthinkingly tumble out of some peoples’ mouths. Maybe all of us could use some tips about what to say to the one fighting back tears. But, first, a sampling of the tone-deaf remarks made to grieving friends.

Are you going to get married again? Huh?? My husband has been dead for less than a week! No, I’m busy planning his graveside ceremony, dealing with paperwork, and trying to keep breathing. Why aren’t you having the memorial service at the club? He didn’t like the club. But, he won’t be there.  What?? You can’t fix stupid.

Gee, I know just how you feel. My dog just died. Okay, we all love our pets dearly. But, is that really an appropriate analogy?? To the widow of the man who died on the golf course:  At least he died doing something he loved. This is not a comfort or helpful in any way. He’s still dead!  Actually, when talking to the bereaved, avoid starting any sentence with “At least….” You are sure to be headed for trouble. Like…At least she’s in a better place. But, she’s not here!

Grief counselors have some suggestions to better handle expressing sympathy. For example, “all I can say is how sorry I am. They were a special person and will be sorely missed.” Or, “I know no words can ease your pain but please know I’m thinking of you.” Less is more to keep from stumbling into that dreaded tone-deaf category.

Since it is so tough to put yourself in another’s place and say the right thing, just admit that to the heartbroken. One of our favorites from the grief experts, which can also be written in a sympathy note or card, is: “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now and I honestly don’t have the words. But I care so much about you. I’m hurting with you. Love you.”

Friends who recently suffered a loss say they most cherished comments that mentioned activities done with the deceased. “Our golf games won’t be the same without his sense of humor.” “I’ll so miss our Wednesday lunches together.” If you want to keep it simple and heartfelt, you might say: “I just loved Bud. We all loved Bud.” (Bud was our dad’s nickname.)

Empathizing with words can be tough and even unhelpful. One grief expert points out that people experiencing loss are so grateful knowing that their friends and relatives care. Don’t underestimate the power of showing up and being present in that person’s life. Get them out of the house and surrounded by friends. If you don’t live close by, continue to call, text, and email.   

So, our Wrinkled Wisdom for today? There is no exact science to loss. Each individual grieves differently. Applaud the grief experts who are attempting to give us some guidance in expressing sympathy to those who have recently suffered a loss. Save this Wrinkled Wisdom with experts’ advice on some tried and tested things to say and do. Yes, create a new file and name it “don’t be tone-deaf.”  We all think we’re going to remember stuff, but haven’t we all experienced a bit of short-term memory loss?? Come on; admit it! And, do your newly-grieving friends a huge favor. Give them a heads up about the tone-deaf. Many people aren’t walking talking Hallmark cards. P.S.  We do not mean to insult anyone who is really tone-deaf by lumping them with people who make insensitive comments. The medical term for their condition, the cognitive inability to discriminate between pitches/musical notes, is called Amusia. Although it’s not very…well…amusing to sit next to them at a concert as they sing along off-key.

3 thoughts on “Wrinkled Wisdom: Death and the Tone-Deaf

  1. Kim says:

    Really wise words. Here’s one real example I can add: after a 21 yr old took his life because of a controlling girlfriend who broke up with him:
    “ It’s so very sad but…At least he’s done with her and she’ll feel guilty.”

    WTF! Thanks for your wisdom.
    Kim.

    Like

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