I have been infatuated with words for quite awhile, but it is painful how inadequate they are for expressing what is truly important. Upon hearing a friend's mother had lost her husband of forty years, the confused silence I mustered was the only appropriate condolence. The attempt to pen some approximation for the sympathy that one feels in the four-inch square space of a greeting card is dismal. The measure of inadequacy for describing the emotion I felt with such an inchoate concept as 'sympathy' is insignificant to the inaccuracy of describing as 'grief' the feeling of losing a spouse of four decades. After so long together, I could only imagine their souls had long grafted together and the loss of one half must surely be fatal to the other. For her to rise each morning is not only a testament to her own body's stubborn will to continue but also to the sublime strength of the children and family, which surround her.
This is not the only time that words, which usually come easily and often too plentiful to me, have been found too sparse to be useful. When confronted with the serious illnesses of others, I could easily present a number of well-worn platitudes that most people dust off for these occasions, but they seem false to me regardless of the sincerity with which I would offer them. I could even proffer empathy from having my own experiences with the fear of serious ill health or the sterile ugliness of hospital corridors as seen from a gurney. But, I have learned otherwise.
A nurse asked the patient in the bed next to me to speak with a newly arrived patient who had suffered a similar fate as him. Apparently, the new arrival had sunk very low and was not speaking. He politely told her that he thought it best that the new guy have time to sort it out for himself, but after a week, if nothing has changed, he would go speak with him. Immediately after her departure, He turned to me and said, “What the hell am I going to say, ‘I hear you found out life’s a bitch too. Sucks don’t it.’ Man. Fuck that.” I nodded in complete agreement.
Anything we could say will either not be enough or already known.