I asked, “How was your visit with your mother?” Her reply, “Horrible. Just horrible”. My reply, “I understand. I am sorry your visit was so bad.”
The truth. I had no clue. I did not understand at all. Her mother was dying from lung cancer and the visit from her daughter was horrible!?!?!?!? It absolutely made no sense to me at the time. Oh, yes, I understood that the weekend visit might be emotional, and it was surely hard to be with a mother who was dying, But, horrible?
During the months that our family ‘had cancer’, I began to understand the meaning of, “Horrible. Just horrible.” I finally began to know how she felt as she went to her dying mother’s bedside. I had walked in her shoes and felt her anguish.
However, there is another side to this lesson. I remember when our grandfather passed away. People said to me, “I understand how you feel. I remember losing my grandparents.” I would smile sweetly and thank them for their well meaning words. Inside though I was screaming, “No, you don’t. You don’t understand, You can never understand how I feel!” “You didn’t know his as I knew him. You don’t understand how special he was. You don’t know how much I loved him. How could you ever know how I feel!!!”
Now, years later, as I reflect back to the days of losing my grandfather, and then my parents, I have come to the following conclusion. Because we are all individuals with individual ways of handling grief and loss, and because we each relate to family members in different ways, our understanding of each other’s sorrow is never complete.
My relationship with my parents is probably different than your relationship with yours. Therefore, we will each have a different sense of loss. If, for example, someone talks to their parents every day and they have a great friendship, then their feelings of loss will include the feelings of losing a close friend. If a parent is a prayer warrior for their child, then that child will miss the prayer support they got from that parent.
So when I am with someone who is grieving or someone who has come to a crisis in their life, I am careful about the words I choose. Knowing that I can only begin to understand their anguish, I do not say, “I understand how you feel.” Rather, I ask, “How would you like for me to pray for you?”