My friend’s mother passed away recently. As he’s hard to reach by phone, I sent him a text when I learned the news. Here’s what I wrote:
I am so very sorry. Having lost a parent, I can relate at some level. Yet I know your grieving experience will be your own. Seek all the support you need. You cannot get enough.
I don’t know exactly what it’s like for my friend to have lost his mother. I don’t know the intimacies of their relationship. I cannot in good conscience say “I know what you’re going through.” I know better.
My father died in 2015. It was hard to wrap my head around the sequence of events that led to his death. I was in shock. At times I still find it hard to believe that he’s no longer with us.
When I beseeched my employer to scale back on his angry emails given that I was struggling to cope with my father’s death, he replied, “we all have our issues to deal with.” When I made plans to spend time with my mother afterwards, he was glad as “it would allow me to get some closure.”
Undoubtedly the two comments reflect how he deals with death. I didn’t ask for elaboration. I didn’t care. All I knew was that they were insensitive and hurtful. All I needed was the recognition that I was hurting. I didn’t get that.
Similarly, I don’t know exactly what it’s like for my friend. I can sympathize. I recognize his circumstances are unique, however. The best I can do is be there for him.
That’s all any of us can do. None of knows exactly what it’s like to lose someone near and dear to us even if we’ve experienced something similar. In these circumstances, I believe the best we can do is to extend our condolences. That’s it. Projecting our own experiences onto those of others is doomed to fail. Attempting to bond via a presumably shared experience may or may not work.
In short, I know I don’t know exactly what it’s like for you to lose someone. I believe you don’t know either.