As a child, I had a mod bike with a pink banana seat. Huge handlebars, longer than my arms, showed off pink and white tassels. Back “in the day”, I rode my bike dressed in a skirt and tights. Not the most comfortable way to ride it. I frequently fell off the bike and skinned my knees. I got really bad “skinners”… the ones where you can barely move your leg . The scabs are huge and hard. Not fun. As soon as I could, I’d get back on the bike. A few blocks later, I’d hit a sidewalk rut and slam – back down I’d go again. Nothing worse than reopening that golf ball-size wound on my knee.
My family (and close friends) can attest to the fact that I still take a plunge to the ground now and then. Gratefully, I haven’t had one of these physical skinners in some time.
Today, the wound is different and on the inside.
During Leah’s illness and passing, people have said or say things that bump my bruised heart. There are also things people say that act as a salve or band-aid on the wound.
Three Words I dread
“How are you?’
Seems like a simple enough and harmless question. Yet, these three words cause anxiety. My heart races faster and I feel uncomfortable when I hear them. It’s because so much happens inside me at that moment. I have a split second decision to make. Am I honest or do I pretend everything is ok? I ask myself, “Does this person want to know how I really am?”
During Leah’s illness, there were times it felt as though I was laying on the ground bleeding and someone would lean over and ask “How are you?” When approaching me in a traumatic situation, someone asking this question didn’t do anything wrong. It just didn’t open the door to a helpful conversation. I remember standing like a deer in headlights – responding with a dazed look when asked this question. Especially when Leah was going through radiation, chemotherapy and in hospice.
Even today, three months after Leah’s death, “How are you?” isn’t always comfortable to answer because the question is so open-ended. I have so many emotions going on that I don’t even know how to begin to answer it. For me, it bumps the bruise. Questions easier for me to respond to are: “How is your day going today?” “How’s this week been?” “How can I best pray for you now?” Questions that are more specific and tell me how open the person is to talking about where I truly am at.
Three Words I Appreciate
“I am sorry.”
Another simple phrase, but it means so much to hear. Saying “I am sorry” acknowledges that something bad has happened – something that is an unusual loss. When someone says these words to me, there is an immediate heart connection. They show empathy and care. In saying them, the person takes a step toward me – a step I appreciate and respect. I am more comfortable responding to these words because I feel I can be open about missing Leah and how I am feeling in the moment. I can never hear them too much.
We are all on this bike ride called life together. It’s hard to know what to say to another person suffering a loss of any kind – whether the loss of a child, parent, spouse, marriage, friendship, or job. We all experience losses in our lives that create wounds.
Words will either cause the wound to open or help the wound heal.
After Leah passed away, one of my dear friends said something so raw and real. She said, “Marie, I apologize right now for anything stupid that I may say today or in the future.” This statement really touches me. I will never forget it. It shows love and humility. Her words tell me that she knows my loss is overwhelming, but she wants to interact rather than avoid me. She helps me feel safe so that I want to get back up on the bike and authentically talk about this valley through which I am journeying.
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24