Tony Woodlief | Author

A Word for Those Who Would Draw Near to Grief

An electric wire runs through her, scalp to sole, and this grief has stripped it bare. His despair inhabits him, and inside he is falling down a dark shaft, falling into himself, into the shadows there.

And here you stand, and you would offer words. Why?

Because this is what decent people do.

Because I don’t want to be thought callous.

Because people are most susceptible to my god when they are broken.

Because I feed on emotion.

Because maybe I can conjure a word to dispel the anguish for a time.

The truth is this: Your words will change nothing. They will evaporate like spit on a hearthstone, or worse: they will be inept, inadequate, an offense. “Think of all the good her sickness did for others,” someone said to me the day I tucked what remained of my daughter into the dirt.
059.Israelite Women Mourn with Jephthah's Daughter

Your words will change nothing, even with the best intentions, because they cannot descend into the grave, cannot breathe life into death. There is one Word that has, that does, that will. Would you quote him, then, in this moment when even he has the decency to practice silence? “All things work together for good, to those who love Christ.” Someone reassured me, in the first year after she was gone, that this is so. Go rejoice at the grave of your own child, then.

It is unfair, I know, that your words will change nothing, and yet you have to say something. How can you not? What then can you say, knowing how inadequate are the words of the whole in the ears of the obliterated?

I am sorry. I am so very sorry.

Yes, but what if that isn’t enough? It isn’t. But if they want to hear more, they will tell you. They control so little else right now, for God’s sake, let them control that. Because chances are they’d rather you listen than speak, for what collects in them is a poison, and somehow it must come out. The grieving, you see, need your ears more than your tongue.

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