Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | March 3, 2017

“Oh, look! Platitudes!”

“I’ve lived through worse than this, and you will, too.”
These ever-so-helpful words spilled from my mouth, spread like an awful stain.
“Oh, look! Platitudes!” came the instant, bitter retort.
Rightly enough, this brought me up short, made me consider what I had said. It cut me to the quick, but I knew I was wrong. Like most people who utter such beatific nonsense, I had meant to be helpful and supportive, but was, in fact, the exact opposite. In my head, my words made sense. Spoken aloud, echoing out in the air, they were only the hollow jabberings of the clueless.
I know better than this. I know all too well that I can be up to my ass in aphorisms and still be in the depths of despair. Even worse, I know that if someone throws me the kind of leaden life preserver I just tossed out so blithely, my unsolvable problem won’t be any closer to being fixed, and I’ll feel even more alone.
Just that morning I had written to a friend, “I’m so sorry for your loss and for this insult added to such injury. Love is love; pain is pain. Sometimes shutting up is the way to help a grieving friend the most. Not a platitude with “but” tacked onto the end of it.”
This is easier said than done, evidently, despite my best efforts and knowing better. By now everyone has seen this ring theory diagram.
Lovely and simple, it describes the obvious “comfort in, dump out” theory of helping. The problem lies in the center, with larger concentric rings of care around the issue at hand. Those in the inner rings ONLY receive care and love, never the added burden of helping those who try to help. Those in the outer rings may ONLY help, not make the problem worse. The job of those in the outer rings is to offer comfort and succor, or go the hell away. Not offer empty platitudes, not ask nosy questions, not require comforting themselves. You may not be able to make the situation better, much as you may desire, but you may not make it worse.
Link to original article “ How Not To Say The Wrong Thing” here: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/ap…
If I’m to divine any meaning at all from the everyday tragedies that have befallen me, I must live my life in such a way as to regret nothing of my behavior later. (Or as little as possible? Nobody’s perfect.) Some days all I can see is strife and pain everywhere I look. I must tweak the box; look through a different lens. I must “look for the helpers.” Look for the connections I know are here. I must show up for my life, show up for the people I love, even when it is sad or uncomfortable or scary. I must love with my eyes wide open, with all my heart. I must be kind. When I drop the ball on kindness, as we all do at times, I must pick it up and play on, redoubling my efforts. Sometimes we can offer the most empathy and support by merely showing up, by being willing to sit there in the darkness and mess, knowing there are problems all the love in the world simply cannot solve. Sometimes all we can do is live through it, one horrible breath at a time. Together.
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