Inarticulate Comfort

Inarticulate – not able to express clearly what you want to say.  (Macmillan Dictionary)

Death – and the accompanying deep grief affecting those caught in its wake – is no respecter of persons. It affects people from all age ranges, economic status, race, religion, gender and political ideology. No one is immune, and the death of a dearly loved one is devastating and the resulting grief is deep, long-lasting and life-changing.

Equally true is that people surrounding those who deeply grieve usually don’t know how to respond. Death and deep grief make people EXTREMELY uncomfortable. People from all age ranges, economic status, race, religion, gender and political ideology get awkward around people who deeply grieve. They don’t know what to say to the griever. They duck down grocery aisles to try to avoid the griever. They look straight through or past the griever, as if they didn’t see the person. They disappear. They back away and observe from a distance. They stare at the griever and talk to each other about the griever from across the room or wherever, while never actually approaching or contacting. They care, but don’t know what to do. They say nothing or they do nothing out of fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. They say stupid or insensitive or inarticulate things, albeit with good intentions. As Angela Miller wrote on the Still Standing website:

If only there was a way for the world to learn how to speak compassionately to the brokenhearted.  What many people believe is a comforting statement, most often is not…There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting. (

We have experienced all of these, and so I know them well. My own mother didn’t know what to say to me and called me maybe four times that first year. One time, I could tell she put some thought into what she wanted to say and had written down some talking points to assist her in talking to me. It wasn’t that she didn’t care; she care immensely. Her own heart was broken over the death of her grandson. She felt helpless to provide any level of comfort to her family. She lived far away and had to rely on the phone to communicate. With all her heart, she wanted to comfort me, but she didn’t know what to say to me. She didn’t want to make me cry and she didn’t know how to help.

I’m not condemning or judging anyone. I simply am stating a truth. I’m a person who sees both sides of the coin. Because of that, from the beginning I have understood with my head that it was difficult to be around us. I understood it was not easy or do to say the right thing. I understood. Just because I understood it didn’t make it any easier for us. Because my head understood doesn’t mean my heart understood. I still bear the scars from being left so alone at a time when I needed most to know someone cared enough to apply the salve of kindness to my broken heart. I have worked hard to forgive and extend grace to those who were uncomfortable around us and caused secondary losses and scars.

I’m not sure which is worse – to have someone disappear and say/do nothing, or to have someone fumble around trying to say something meaningful to communicate their sorrow at our loss. I think it may be worse to have someone disappear and say/do nothing. At least if someone is talking to you, there’s a possibility for support and meaningful communication. At least you know they care.

I’ve tried to stay away from anything political on my blog, and so my comments here are not intended to be political in nature. I just have to say, though, that this whole kerfuffle with President Trump, his condolence call to the widow of the serviceman who died in Niger, and the actions of Rep. Frederica Wilson really bothers me. It grieves my heart for there to be so much ugliness and political grandstanding in the face of such deep grief and horrific loss.

Inarticulate though he may have been in trying to offer comfort, I tend to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt in making such a difficult call. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing to do, and I have read reports that he tried to get advice on how to go about it and what to say. As Angela Miller (above) said, “There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting.” That President Trump may have had a gap between his intentions and what he communicated is no surprise to me. It happens to a LOT of people. I know and understand this gap intimately. My attitude is more along the line, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” In other words, can any of us guarantee that we would have been the perfect, shining example on how to make such a condolence call? Can we guarantee that we would not have offered inarticulate comfort?

The actions of Rep. Frederica Wilson, though, absolutely make me sick. I see no other way to interpret her actions than to use the death of a serviceman for her own personal political capital. She is not the first politician to do so. She has laughed about the situation and called herself a “rock star” because of the attention she has garnered. I feel like she keeps stirring the pot so she is in the spotlight. She has attacked chief of staff John Kelly, who lost a son in Afghanistan. She’s on talk show after talk show, making one inflammatory accusation after another. And President Trump’s response and the response of other people to the attacks of Rep. Wilson haven’t help de-escalate the situation. There are very few clean hands here, and more insensitivity than sensitivity. I feel like the loss of a life has taken a back seat to politics and political grandstanding.

Emotions run high following such a tragic loss. Emotions are raw and grievers are hypersensitive. Things that happen hurt more, especially when they are negative, and the pain goes deeper. The loss of this life is being played out in a public forum. My heart goes out to this serviceman’s family and the families of the other servicemen who died in this horrific attack in service to our country. It’s such a sad, sad situation, and painful to watch.

This has been front-page news for more than a week now. I remember the newspaper articles about Jason’s accident, calls from reporters wanting statements from the grieving parents to sensationalize the stories they were writing, seeing a photograph of Jason and Alina on the front page of the Sunday Seattle Times, giving a statement to the judge in front of a packed courtroom, seeing pictures and reading articles in newspapers about the accident and the sentencing of the young man who killed Jason and Alina.

But, after the attention has moved on to something else and all of the press has gone home, the fact remains that someone has lost a dearly loved person and the grief resulting from that loss will go on for a very long time. The proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame” is infinitesimally small compared to the years of grief. The attention fades away, but the grief remains.

May God have mercy on us all and give us comfort in our losses.


© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney


6 thoughts on “Inarticulate Comfort

  1. Rebecca, your comments are exactly what I told my husband and friend about the whole mess. My heart breaks for the young widow and the soldiers entire family. I wish that Trump would simply tell the young woman that he is sorry that his words hurt her. That he simply wanted to bring comfort. For not being able to realize that even the best intention words can hurt someone. For not just letting go and giving the family the space it needs to begin the process of healing their broken heart.
    Unfortunately I wonder if the widow will struggle to learn the painful truth that words are just words. That people will say things that are hurtful without meaning to be. I’ve learned to not dwell on those words.
    Shame on the congresswoman for her grandstanding and using a horrible loss for her own means. Shame on her for not simply giving comfort to a grieving person.

  2. You are such a thoughtful writer, Becky. I appreciated this post more than you can imagine.
    Thinking of you and wishing you comfort in your sadness of missing your beloved Jason.

  3. Yes…and we who grieve have our own grief triggered and compounded when we see such nasty things occur. It’s been a very hard week for me. I have seen an abundant of nasty and mean-spirited things stated to other grievers. It began with approx. 1000 attacks on a woman who was grieving over the loss of her child thru adoption. The comparisons turned into a grade school ‘pissing contest’ (please excuse the terminology) of whose pain, sorrow, and grief was greatest. It was shameful and I almost left the Grief Community entirely because of it. If we who grieve have not learned compassion for others via all we have suffered, I fear we never will. (((HUGS))) TY! for addressing this matter. Child loss is child loss no matter what the circumstances. I will post this on my site.

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