The Wrong Thing

A woman got into my elevator this afternoon carrying a huge baby-themed cake. She was en route to a baby shower, and it reminded me that our grief counselor has warned that eventually someone will, without meaning to, say The Wrong Thing to one of us. The Wrong Thing isn’t intended to punch you in the gut, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel the sting.

The Wrong Thing that I’ve dreaded most is being in public somewhere and getting asked if I have any kids. Assuming my natural instinct (collapse to the floor bawling) is not a constructive answer, I have two options, neither of them great. I can lie and say “no,” but denying that I ever had kids just to spare myself an awkward conversation is about the most cowardly thing I can think of. Saying “yes” is no picnic either, because the next question is inevitably “oh, how old are they?” and within ten seconds the poor person who thought he/she was asking a benign getting-to-know-you question realizes I am That Guy Who Lost His Kids and Isn’t That Awful, and suddenly no one wants to talk about the Red Sox or pass the cheese platter. What a bringdown.

It’s good to steel ourselves a little bit in case someone accidentally says The Wrong Thing, but so far no one’s even come close to that. I’ve heard people tell me of their own losses, about how years and years have passed and they carry a little sadness with them as they carry on. I’ve heard people say that Graham’s and Georgia’s lesson that life is worth living has inspired them to hug their own kids closer, or inspired them to make a change in their own lives. Most often, I’ve heard people offer their love and support. We’re so sorry. We’re thinking of you. We care about you. We’re here for you.

A friend sent us a beautiful handmade condolence card. I’d said that telling us jokes helped; this card included one and it did help, but the author worried that he/she had said The Wrong Thing and added:

I’m sorry if that lame attempt at a joke was totally inappropriate but I never quite know the right thing to say – I don’t think there is a right thing to say…

Not The Wrong Thing at all – it sounds about right to me.

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