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At a Loss for Words About Loss

“I don’t know what to say.”

A really good friend of mine lost his dad last week, and unexpectedly, and that’s the comfort I gave him: “I don’t know what to say.” I can just imagine his thoughts: Hey, thanks for that, asswipe. You know, it’s funny, when I don’t know how to do something, I usually keep it to myself until I do know how to do it. But that’s just me. I appreciate you keeping me in the loop. Now please don’t call me again. He’s far too classy to say that to my face, but I wish he would have. Verbal abuse may have distracted me from my inadequate comforting.

I imagine for his friends and acquaintances getting such surprise news, their feeling was akin to mine, one of distant horror, like a faint recollection of a sad childhood story. We didn’t yet have access to the full emotion or even a grasp of this reality because our context was just starting construction. The walls went up before the foundation was built.

This is, of course, microscopic to how he felt: all of the confusion and battle with reality, but without numbness.

And we’re back to the situation at hand: not being able to give comfort when it is most needed. Does anyone have words that are comforting during this time? If so, I’ve never heard them. When I consider the familiar repertoire of standard sayings, I’m repulsed:

  • “It’s better this way.”
  • “She’s in a better place.”
  • “He’s not suffering any longer.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “You’re now beginning a new chapter.”

Bullshit, absolute phony and pandering and heartless bullshit, all of it…at least for people our age. Although our 50pov blog twenty years from now will be loaded with posts of dealing with parental loss, we writers for this blog are in our thirties. We are not supposed to be facing it yet. We are obviously not immune from the death of our folks–many of us have lost a parent already. The point here is that we’re generally inexperienced in this area. Our wisdom at this point is concomitant to feelings of failure.

Maybe it’s just me. I know the saying that “just being there for a friend is what’s important,” but isn’t that like getting a Participant ribbon for coming in last in a race? I’d feel like a better friend, a real friend, if I could say something worth a damn in such a dire time. I can be there for him anytime. It’s meaningful words I wanted to share, and I floundered like a chump. A member of my life finds himself in the worst way of his life, and this is the time that I have nothing to say?

Then lee lee sent us our theme for the month, Season Finale. Spark. This was something to work with, a possible way to comprehend such a loss at this time in our lives and put it into a useful structure.

Let’s have a go. And come now, you making that ugly face of distaste, don’t be appalled at the connection between death and TV. Television is easy to denigrate and belittle–looking your way, According to Jim–yet for most of us, it is a more steady companion and part of our life than we care to admit. Both comfort and wisdom come from the things we know best, even when they are not highly regarded.

Consider how meaningful our favorite shows are to us. We get something real from them, be it intellectual engagement, exhiliration, or escape. We also share in a community with others watching the same show. We know when the shows are on, and we look forward to seeing them. Sometimes we crave more, and we spend more time with them than usual. Other times we miss a few weeks because we’re tied up with other parts of our existence. But the show is always there, ours to enjoy. The next week comes, and we’re happy at the same time, same channel.

Then the season ends. Some of us know it’s coming, while others are aware only as the last episode concludes. At this particular milestone or a show’s life, some end their seasons on a joyous note. Dexter and Rita are married! Sterling Cooper Draper Price, may I help you? Others are absolutely upsetting. Carmela and Tony are divorcing? Mulder is dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head? Two and a Half Men is still on the air?

Before we know it, the credits have rolled, the news is on, and our season is over, ready or not. The next week we might go back to our show out of habit, but it’s not on. Eventually we find ourselves doing some other things, be it watching other shows, reading a book, or (gasp) going for a run. Life continues. Time ticks. Our show is not gone, it’s just away. And then, happiness–the next season is to start, and we’re excited. There have been some changes to the cast, of course. The later seasons will never be as good as the earlier ones. But we’re back to give it a try again. Part of our routine has returned, and it feels good.

So, my man, I am late with these words, but I want to let you know that I am sorry that this season ended so sadly and surprisingly for you and your family. It’s going to be a long winter without your favorite character, and there’s no getting around that. Life will surely be hard, unfamiliar, and lonesome. I want you to know, however, that I’ve talked personally with the producers of the show. They’re not going to replace your favorite character. They’re also not going to introduce new characters to make us forget your favorite character (Sam, you and your adorable red hair need to go find another job, son).

They are instead going to give you a new season that maintains what made the show great in the first place–the engaging story, the love interest, the ridiculous neighbors, the subtle narration, the exciting plots, the spectacular writing, and the connection to everything important in this world. I’ve even paid for limited commercial interruption.

It’s one of my favorite shows as well, and while this season will be quite different, I expect it to be great in its own way. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

13 responses to “At a Loss for Words About Loss”

  1. Jason Jason says:

    Thanks, brother. I got the all clear from our boy before publication, which I was grateful for.

  2. Avatar llxt says:

    i know i already told you this, but this made me cry the first time i read it. very thoughtful, in a not-cliche kinda way. sam's lucky to have you.

    • Avatar tee says:

      I'm with you lee – cried… Moving moments filled with honesty… I never know what to say either – but I'll tell ya what, the next time I come across this situation (which I hope doesn't happen until we are writing for 50pov ) I'm just going to direct them to the blog.

  3. Avatar Rebecca says:

    This is a great analogy for loss. For what it's worth, though, I would personally appreciate an honest "I don't know what to say" from a friend. It would validate my own loss of what to do in such a situation. I'd rather get honest, silent shock and a shoulder to cry on than a canned response like "He's in a better place."

  4. Will Will says:

    Nice blog post. BTW, there's nothing wrong with what you said. It's an honest reply to shocking news. All the other possibilities you listed sound contrived,, and they are fake placeholders. As someone who lost his father very early, I can tell you I wanted to throttle everyone who told me it was "for a reason" or "in God's plan." I always wanted to respond, "Is it in the plan for me to punch you right now?" I was only ten.

  5. Avatar angelatav says:

    Good stuff here, guy. Good, good stuff. Minus the link to the picture of Sam—IN BLACK AND WHITE WHY?

  6. Avatar emmy em says:

    This is raw honesty and thoughtfulness. Absolutely gorgeous. Very well done, Jason.

  7. Will, I'm in agreement. And if you ever want to take a road trip to travel around punching everyone in the face who said something asinine to either of us during those miserable moments of our lives, I'll put in for a five year sabbatical now.

  8. Avatar marcos says:

    it's always strange to get a compliment when writing on such a subject because you don't write it for the accolades, but for the catharsis and the act of honoring something the best way you can, but, Jason, you've done great great work here.

  9. A truly wonderful nod to our boy, Jason. If I appreciate this as much as I do, I can only imagine how great he feels about it.

  10. Avatar Sam M. says:

    Awesome, unexpected, and I'm totally in on that face punching road trip someone suggested. I'll bring the nachos.

  11. Avatar Maura M. says:

    I loved this, Jason. Honest and funny and just exactly right. Thank you!

  12. Avatar lisa leary says:

    I am very proud of you hunny, I have never read your pieces before and this was totally mind blowing and intuitative, and being one of those who ,lost a my dad at an early age. Totally wished someone had written this to me.

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jasonleary About jasonleary

Jason Leary is liberalish, except regarding the Oxford comma; an occasional runner; and a part-time thinker. A happy family man, Jason also loves William Carlos Williams, liberty, and beer. He pulled this bio from his Twitter profile, @JasonLeary74.

Read more by this author on 30POV .


December 2009
Season Finale
November 2009
{Seven Deadly} Sins
October 2009
Mischief Making
September 2009
Green Ethics
August 2009