30 October 2012

When Words Fail

Yesterday afternoon, there was a school bus accident in Carroll County, Kentucky barely half an hour from where I live. Two young children were killed. One of them was the son of a family I know. The child's mother has been the best friend of a young friend of mine. The child's aunt is my cousin's best friend. I've spent the day sending and receiving messages about the incident.

Death is the most universal subject there is. Medical science is dedicated, ultimately, to defying it. The arts have fixated on it to the point that some believe all art is really, ultimately, about death. For all the thought we've given the subject, though, there's nothing of any value whatsoever to be said. Even saying there's nothing to say has become a cliche.

And yet, we cannot avoid the compulsion to say something. Maybe it's because we hope that if we throw enough platitudes on the wall, someone is bound to find something that sticks. Maybe it's how we sign the attendance sheet, verifying to our loved ones that we are present with them at such a difficult time. Maybe we just can't stand the silence. I don't know.

Even this stream-of-consciousness post only amounts to a feeble attempt to reach out and somehow connect with someone about this. I don't expect anyone to have anything insightful to say, so it's fine if you've read this and don't reply. I'm not even sure I want to publish any comments on this post, to be honest, though I'll certainly read them.


  1. As a hospice nurse, I've seen so many different ways that people cope with loss. Heard all of the platitudes. After doing this for this long, it seems to me that it is okay... OKAY... to be silent.

    A simple "I'm here if you need me." Lets a grieving person know you are present, and you care. It is hard to not keep talking, sometimes, to try and "see what sticks" to use your words. I think, for me, the silence was learned over years of being at the bedside of dying patients. I wouldn't expect it to be something people who don't encounter death often would instinctively do.

    Letting them know you are available lets them come to you, and makes your offer of sympathy less overbearing.

    1. This has been my general approach for years now, though it always feels inadequate. Given how much I despise platitudes, I think on some level I feel challenged to try to find something original to say but of course, I come up empty every time.

      I suppose it's reassuring to have a hospice nurse validate my general low-key manner. At least I know that if there's a more meaningful, helpful thing to do than just say "I'm here for you and I care", you haven't found it, either.