We were recently reminded of what it means to be struck by tragedy and how important the support from others can be. Whenever something terrible happens, some people seem to be lost for words though. “What to do? What to say?” comes up. Frankly, I don’t know. I don’t have a recipe. I don’t have the perfect phrase. There is none. I just sometimes want to say “Just don’t say anything stupid.” But what is appropriate and what is not? I realize of course that this is highly individual, it depends on the person and situation and I cannot speak for other people. But here is my take on the topic.
I think that there might be a common theme where things can go off the rails and that is platitudes. According to the dictionary a platitude is “A trite or banal remark or statement, especially one expressed as if it were original or significant.“. I find that people tend to revert to platitudes when they desperately try to find something positive to say when in fact there isn’t anything positive to be found. It is human nature that in a tragic situation we want to help and we have the urge to say something that would make the affected person feel better.
In our case a few of the platitudes that we have heard are: “Oh, you are young, you can always have another baby.” “Oh, that’s not too bad, just imagine he would have been four or five.”, “At least you know that you are able to conceive.”, “There is always something positive coming out of tragedy.” And the list goes on. I’m sure all of these remarks were made with good intentions and I can even sometimes appreciate that good intention behind it, depending on who said it. However I have to say that, thankfully, these things have been said by people who we do not know well as in the end they are more hurtful than helpful.
My point is that there are situations where nothing positive can be said. There is nothing positive about what happened. And I think people sometimes just have to accept that. In these situations I find it is best to be honest. A hug can mean more than words or even “I don’t know what to say” is ok. Because it’s true and it’s honest. It’s a big learning curve and I myself struggle with that sometimes. I find myself saying “I’m ok, thanks.” sometimes and that’s not quite honest and probably counts as a platitude as well.