People are going to say stupid things and you just have to remember they’re doing it out of love and not knowing any better.
A friend of mine just ended his relationship, a relationship that he and his fiancé were expecting to last forever. A relationship that felt so real to an outsider like me that when I heard of it’s demise I literally did a double take.
And a mutual friend of ours who had been in that situation before said to him “People are going to say stupid things and you just have to remember they’re doing it out of love and not knowing any better.”
One of the things I’ve learned so intensely in the last year is that you can’t control what anyone else does. You can’t anticipate what kind of reaction they’re going to have to surprising or upsetting news. You can’t anticipate how they’re going to try to comfort you or whether they’re going to need comforting themselves. You have to be ready to hear the exact right thing or the exact wrong thing at any moment.
And of course it’s always the wrong things that you remember. The people who I wanted to hug me but who instead just stared and let me keep rambling. The friend who told me that her boyfriend was an orphan and joked that she’ll never have to meet his parents.
And the thing I have to remember is that all of these wrong things are just failed attempts at right things made by people trying to show their love.
Even when the words cut like glass it’s this that I have to remember. People are flawed, their attempts are flawed, their words are flawed. But their love is like a diamond. If there are flaws in it they are there to be loved too because they come from a flawed world.
Today I put the Jewish anniversary of my dad’s death (called a yahrzeit) for the next 20 years into my calendar and I’ll tell you what is the most upsetting thing about him being gone, the thing I haven’t told anyone.
If I ever see him again, if I ever get to hear him crack a joke it’ll be literally a lifetime from now. My lifetime. It isn’t that I’ll never see him again, it’s imagining that if on some plane I do see him again it’ll be many, many decades from now. I’ll go the next 50, 80, 100 years before I get to see him smile again. That is the most upsetting thing. And everything else that is upsetting, a (very heavy) pine box being lowered into the earth, a yahrzeit candle, a condolence card, is only upsetting because it’s a reminder of that fact.
So now you know. Now you have a tiny slice of that experience to tuck into your heart and maybe the next time you have a friend going through something you’ve never experienced you can pull out that shard of glass and maybe it’ll help you say a right thing.