I recently read on a commercial condolence card website a sample card to send to parents who have suffered the unthinkable loss of a child. It closed with “If there’s anything we can do, please call us.” I actually laughed. The parents aren’t going to call.
“Hi Janet, this is Casey. We got your card—thank-you so much—well we’re completely falling apart over here, so please come over like you promised.” That’s not how it works. The parents can’t reach out, and you have–unintentionally I’m sure–pushed yourself further away from them. You basically told them “We sent the card, you are on your own, we’ll wait for your call, and sure hope you don’t.”
There is a primal urge for many of us to distance ourselves from someone who has lost a child. I completely get it—it’s frightening, unimaginable, and thinking about it makes you want to crawl in a cave. But with an insincere gesture like please call us you make the bereaved feel even more the victim. And those of us who have lost a child are very much in tune with this reverse magnetic energy. It’s like we are Superman’s kryptonite.
In How to Write a Condolence Card I included several “Don’ts. Here is one more.
Don’t “offer” to do something. Pick up the phone and call your friend or family member. Go have coffee or lunch. Just be there for them. It really doesn’t matter what you say or do. The fact you showed up will speak volumes and be incredibly helpful; that you made the effort to let them know they are not alone with their loss and you were not too afraid to meet it head on with them. For the guys, my wife Hilary calls it “manning up.” It’s not easy. But it will be one of the most important, gratifying, things you’ll ever do. Trust me on this.