Grandpa's Chess Set
Pillars, Crutches, and Other Manner of Support Systems

“Oh, Yeah, Sorry about Your Father”

My mother has found the outpouring of grieving reactions from people about my father’s death to be moving and comforting. She keeps saying how surprised my father would be—so many people have touched her by saying such nice things about a man who was always nice. Me, well, on the whole I have found that I need to reconfigure what I think of people. Granted, none of the people who have, unbeknownst to them, hurt me ever knew my father, but I had thought that on the whole people were kind and caring and were able to take a moment out of their lives to console a friend/colleague/acquaintance. My mother said I should just leave it, but how can I? How can I let the uncaring, or unaware, or thoughtless not impinge just a bit into my vision of the village?

Maybe I was like them before, not aware of how much a word, however brief, just acknowledging someone’s grief means to that person. But does that really excuse a colleague who I laugh with on a daily basis in the English teacher lunchroom to say to me the other day, as I was telling something that happened while we were sitting shiva at my parent’s house, “Oh, yeah, sorry about your father.” Speak of cutting to the quick with insensitivity. A few years ago, when I barely knew her, I went to her sister’s funeral. So she knows of grief. The casual way she addressed me just doesn’t leave me.

And then there is another teacher, her room is next to mine and we talk on occasion, but she is much older than me and she keeps to herself most of the time because she’s busy being the overworked theatre teacher. Granted, this summer we ran into each other in the records room of the courthouse when she was there with her daughter who was going through a divorce and I was there in the continual ache of divorce proceedings, which, perhaps, made some kind of outside-of-school bond. And I did tell her that I was flying down to Florida because my father was sick. When she saw me in the hall the other day, she gave me the warmest hug and said how sorry she was for my loss. Then, after we talked for a few minutes, as she was walking away she turned and said “Love ya,” which worked to bring tears again to my eyes, this time not in memory of my father or her parents who had passed away, but from the kindness of some people and the connections that we create that hold us to each other—and up.

There was an email announcement at school and at temple about my father’s passing. At school, one person sent an email and one person sent a card, and I received a plant from the school administration. I did tell three school friends about his passing before the announcement was made and they were kind, but each of them, I believe, should have contacted me over the break to see how my father was, which they did not do. At temple, there were calls and emails from a few people, and a donation made in honor of my father. At temple there were also genuine hugs when people saw me, and there was an honest sense of caring.

I don’t know what to think. Is it an age thing, being able to acknowledge someone’s grief and be able to reach out to a person who is grieving? Is it a work-relationship thing? Is it me and my ability or inability to connect at a deep enough level with people for them to reach out to me? Is it that at temple, a place created for, to a great degree, dealing with the hurts of life, people find it easier to connect? I have no idea.

What I sense is that we are so entrenched in our lives that we don’t take the time to reach out to each other, at least not in meaningful ways. What I sense, too, is that we are so very tribal and the tribe is so very very small: one’s own nuclear family and the few friends who are admitted into that circle. Social networking. Is that just another way to pretend that we engage with people when, really, we are further closing into the smallest family unit. Do we know how to create meaningful relationships? Do I?

The saving grace was my real friends, who showed that they are, indeed, real friends. Am I too naïve or deluded to hope/ think/expect that more of the people whose lives intersect with mine will care enough about me to extend a word, a gesture, an acknowledgement? Pain. Yes, it’s painful that my father passed away. But it’s also painful to realize that we are not intersecting with each other, we are simply in parallel paths.

Will this knowledge stop me from expressing my concern for others? No. There is a difference in understanding the way most people work and in succumbing to that. Are my real friends my real friends because they share the same characteristics as me? Maybe it’s not our circumstances that invites closeness but rather our personalities.

I don’t know. It’s all so painful. Is it really so hard to show that you care, that someone else’s life can divert from yours for just a moment?  



I think all too often people aren't sure what to say so they say nothing at all.


Yes, I agree with MsDarkstar. It's maybe fear of saying the wrong thing that keeps people from reaching out. We put up these barriers or maybe there's been a time when we've reached out to someone and been rebuffed. But reading about your experience kind of helps to solidify something I've thought for a while now -- it never hurts to reach out to someone in pain. It's the human thing to do. The "Oh, yeah, sorry about your father," seems perfunctory and after the fact.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

MsDarkstar, you're probably right, but that doesn't stop it from being wrong or a bad reflection on where we are as a society and people if we can't reach out.

JC, her comment was so incredibly hurtful and really brought home the idea that we do have barriers--but who are they protecting?


This is so sad. I do think people avoid reaching out or saying anything because of their own uncomfortableness with death. Yes, we can say it's because we don't know what to say and don't want to say the wrong thing and that all may be true but when it comes down to it, hearing about death reminds us of our own immortality. In no way am I justifing the cold behavior because really it is sad. I know that losing people close to me has taught me to be more sensitive to others when they lose someone. Going through the death of a loved one can be very isolating and add to the hurt a person already feels. I have learned that most of the time, nothing needs to be said, a gesture as simple as a hug, bringing over a plate of cookies or a hotdish and or a few words of "I'm sorry" is more then enough. I am sorry Laura for the hurt this has brought you. ((((Laura))))) My thoughts go out to you and your mom as you both still feel the affects of grief. XX Lori


"What I sense is that we are so entrenched in our lives that we don’t take the time to reach out to each other, at least not in meaningful ways."

I think this statement of yours is at the crux of our sickly society.

I have noticed this over time myself, how self absorbed people are that they fail to respond in even the most minimal way to another's suffering. How have we come to this place where a young person dies a violent death and no one pauses to even shed a tear at the loss or an older person leaves their loved ones and we can't stop to offer a hug and few words of sympathy?

I have been hearing others voicing the same concerns so I think we are the ones that need to begin the change. It doesn't cost us much to just stop and really listen to another human being and HEAR them. Tap into their emotional state and really respond to that person.

The most frequent complaints I hear from people is, "I have so much to do and no time!" I say we need to drop some of those "things to do" and make time for others.


Not to defend or excuse these behaviors, but it could be as innocent as they don't want to be the first to bring it up. They may not know whether or not you want to talk about it at work. Or they're afraid you'll become inconsolable.
Again, it doesn't make it right, but since we as a society are so uncomfortable dealing with death, spending so much time and energy trying to live longer...people just don't know how to act.


So sorry, Laura. I hope your sorrow will ease a but with time. I think people are more and more afraid of expressing their own feelings towards others. Also, from my experience, I can say that it is also a matter of culture. I get instant support and affection from my Italian and Spanish friends for example rather than from British ones. I think in some of the northern cultures showing affection and sympathy is considered a sort of intrusion. Don't dwell on all of this though. Only consider the people of are nice to you and "cut out the dead branches". All the best. Ciao. A.

Elizabeth A.

I guess I'm already jaded at the ripe age of 25. I have few expectations of people, especially family or people who are "supposed to care." There's little point. I refuse to be disappointed or hurt anymore.

This sounds like this has cut you deeply though and I'm very sorry for your loss. This may be an overly simple suggestion, but perhaps some grief counseling would be helpful. It really helped me to refocus.

I'm with Antonella, cut the branches.


Well I am profoundly sorry to hear about the loss of your father but am glad you found some comfort with your real friends as that really does mean a lot.

I think some people come off as indifferent or flippant because they may be trying to deflect their own fears and discomforts about loss. I don't know this for sure but it's my hypothesis. Of course there are always people just cold and shallow to the core.

But you have people out there who really do care, how wonderful it is to find them.


This was really beautifully written. I am often awkward when it comes to "saying the right thing" at the right time. I obsess about it and over-think, trying to find the appropriate comforting words. Believe it or not, I found my answer in an old "Dear Abby" column. A woman who had just lost her husband and had undergone the whole funeral process was equally as frustrated as you by the unthoughtful "condolences" people offered. She asked Abby to print a list of suggestions of appropriate things to say to a grieving family. One of them was to tell a personal, happy recollection about the deceased, perhaps something the family did not know. I've always remembered that and have tried to apply it, it's helped immensely.

I'm new to the "blogosphere" and have just found your site. I hope I can make my blog as thoughtful and skillfully written as yours appears to be. Thanks for sharing your experience, I sincerely hope you and your family are doing well and are finding a way to get through this difficult time.

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