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How the familiar words of a cliche can grant comfort to the grieving

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have seen, COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll, and many are not able to say goodbye to their loved ones.

    It leaves some of us unsure we can find the right words for those who are grieving.

    Throughout life, we are told to avoid cliches, but writer Rion Amilcar Scott shares his Humble Opinion on the one place the cliche will do.

  • Rion Amilcar Scott:

    On the day before she died, the last time I saw my mother lucid, for no good reason, I neglected to kiss her goodbye when I left the hospital for the night.

    And that's how I missed the final opportunity to kiss the cheek of my still living and conscious mother. This is one of the many sadnesses that frequently swarm my grieving mind, things I would rather not think about.

    Likewise, I'd rather not think of things to tell my mother next time we talk, only to remember there won't be a next time. But, hey, all mothers die. She's supposed to go and leave me here with only memories. It's the proper way of things.

    In the presence of the grieving, some people choose to say nothing. Ashamedly, I have done it myself, even after knowing better. But I have learned now the one good use for cliches. They somehow find power as a balm to spread over the pain.

    Look, as a writer, all my training has taught me to be allergic to cliches. If I were to somehow write that my mother's death caused me to cry my eyes out, in revision, I would perhaps replace that stock phrase with a description of words lost in the crack of a voice trying to stifle back tears.

    Death, in all its devastating finality, though, won't wait for a revision. Death won't wait for you to dig through your soul in search of a blazing truth that will put a grieving spirit in order.

    I'm not convinced such a sequence of words even exists. When someone dies, look the grieving in their eye and say, "My condolences," or, "I'm sorry for your loss." Say it sincerely and with meaning.

    When those words were said to me in the days after my mother's passing, it said: I see you and I see your grief.

    There may not be a blinding truth within you about anyone's loss, but there are small sparkles of light. The power your cliches have in the face of death's enormity is their acknowledgment that there is nothing to say, no words, as that particular cliche goes, but still something needs to be said to recognize both the devastation and the humanity of the griever.

    Those well-worn words are a small offering, perhaps, but they will suffice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rion Amilcar Scott, we thank you.

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