The inadequacy of “my condolences”

A coworker lost his father last week. Unexpectedly. Suddenly. Tragically. Emails have been flooding my inbox – what’s his address, where does his family live, what are their wishes, an invoice for flowers, a group card to sign. Since I work on a three person team with him, I wanted to send my own card, my own expression of sympathy. Yet as I stood in the card aisle at Walgreens pondering the rather slim selection of  cards, a card didn’t seem adequate. How can words relieve or lessen the pain of losing a loved one.

I’ve lost two grandparents, a number of very loved childhood pets, and been there for my best friend who lost her mother to cancer when we were 17. Each time there were no words. Just pure raw emotion. Words were trivial strings of letters that floated through the heavy, grief stricken air.

I do not consider myself experienced in grief. I have not approached a time in my life when the people I know and love leave forever. Forever. Such a scary and intangible word when combined with death. So how can I, someone who has been fortunate to experience so little grief, expect my words to lessen the pain of someone who is suffering through the unexpected death of a loved one?

My condolences seem inadequate.

What good will words do?

And yet here I sit, staring at the gold writing of a Hallmark sympathy card waiting for the words to come. Words that can show him that I care. Because I do care. And sometimes words are all we have.

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