While I’m a firm believer in the silver lining theory, I don’t think it should apply to someone else’s loss. When our loved one has an accident, disabling illness, cancer, or some other difficult diagnosis, there really is nothing good in it. It’s true that we are glad our loved one is alive but that’s no consolation to us right now if they can’t walk, talk, function, or have to go through debilitating surgery and treatments. And if our loved one has died, we’re left with a gaping hole in our lives that we will have to mourn.
That’s why it makes no sense to say to say to someone, “If you had to get cancer this is a good one to get.” There really is no “good” cancer and for someone who’s loved one is facing impending surgery and/or radiation or chemotherapy, your words are of little comfort.
There really is no “bright side” when a loved one dies. No matter what our situation, it is inappropriate to search for something good in a death. The young widow did not appreciate, “It’s a good thing he died while you were young so you could get married again.” The bereaved husband found little comfort in, “At least she didn’t suffer.” And the middle-aged grandson grieving a beloved grandmother felt misunderstood when told “At least she lived a long life.” No matter how young or old or sick, we are never ready to lose a loved one. We’ll always want them with us for as long as possible.
Nothing anyone can say will help those facing loss see a silver lining in their cloud. In time, they may feel grateful that their loved one survived or didn’t suffer before their death, but that’s something they’ll have to figure out for themselves; in their own time and in their own way.
So what can you say? It is always appropriate to share how very sorry you are that someone is going through a difficult time, whether in person, on the phone, by email, or in a note. Taking the time to communicate your concern is absolutely the best way to comfort.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It® When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in e-book and print for "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage" and e-books for "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / fallingwater123