No, I Don’t Know How You Feel… But I Do Care

A small essay I published yesterday including a couple of examples of things not to say to someone dealing with the death of a loved one. My oldest sister, Freeda, responded with, “You could have added, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’”

That reminded me of an incident from about eighteen years ago. A young man in the church Randa and I were pastoring died in a tragic accident. His death devastated his sister and their parents. One morning soon after the funeral, I felt stirred by the Spirit to give his sister a call.

As we talked, I told her, “You don’t know this, but I have five siblings. And I don’t know that if all five of them died at once that I would feel what you’re feeling.”

She broke down. I could hear her crying. Then, she choked out in softly broken words, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. I am so tired of people telling me, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ They don’t know; they can’t know how I feel.” I could feel an intense pain and passion in her voice, and I’ve never forgotten that conversation.*

Ever since that conversation, I’ve been very careful not to use that phrase or anything that resembles it. It’s a cliché that we’ve all heard so many times that it becomes automatic. It’s not that I don’t realize that people mean well when they say it. And I think we should cut people a bit of slack whenever they mean well.

What they mean is probably something along the lines of, “I’ve lost someone, too. My mother, my father, my closest friend… Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” So, when we’re on the receiving side, let’s try to lower the level of judging and up the level of appreciating that they want us to know that they care and that they understand it’s a painful situation.

As to what we ourselves say, probably good to avoid that one. As Freeda reminded me, “Every relationship is different.” What if this person’s father was a secret abuser? What if their mother used to pour scalding water on them when they misbehaved? What if the last thing this person said to their lost loved one was something really mean and hateful and now, they can never apologize for it? Even if we’ve been where they are, we still don’t know how they feel.

If I got really deep down honest, I’d have to admit that I rarely know exactly how I feel in the aftermath of loss and tragedy. So I know exactly how you feel? Not likely. But I appreciate that you understand that it’s a painful place. And that we’re sharing a life that isn’t often easy but is always better when we care about each other.

Especially when that caring shows.

* Immediately after that conversation, a song began forming in my mind. I pulled my guitar out of its case and started writing. It’s a song that seems to speak to people in that initial shock of loss and pain. If you’d care to listen to it, (awesome saxophone playing by Michael Reining) try this link:

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
This entry was posted in Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, suffering and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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