Condolences expressed best simply, honestly


POSTED: Saturday, October 04, 2008

Shopping for a condolence card probably put me on the sales clerks' radar as a potential problem in aisle three. Those long-winded sing-song verses are enough to make a person mutter. One card after another, back in the slot, judged to be too cute, too wordy, too lame, too much of a good thing.

Finally there was one with a pithy one-sentence sentiment, and room to write my own anecdote about what a sweetheart Olive Kruse was, a pillar of her church who produced gazillions of jars of picked onions for fundraisers and wore hats to church and carried on conversations with God for 92 years before, I'm positive, meeting him face to face last month.

Speaking of long-winded, the cards remind me of that creeping curse of cyberspace, the inspirational, motivational, humorous, spiritual, religious message that people send out in wholesale lots, often with the caveat that if you send it on to 10 other people, you'll never be sad or hungry again. Sometimes there's a spark or glimmer in them, but it's like being friends with a punster. At some point a person hits overload and can't take anymore.

Except for those true, authentic, eloquent, wisdom-of-the-ages “;old Irish blessings.”; They strike my Irish heart, although I know it's likely there's a cottage - or pub - industry grinding them out to this day.

One that came my way recently:

“;What I pray for you is not a path devoid of clouds ... not that you never feel pain.

“;I pray that you will be brave in times of trial. In every hour of joy or pain, may you feel God near you.

“;When there are mountains to be climbed, when there are chasms to be crossed, that every gift that God gave you will go along with you.”;

That message tapped my Irish tear ducts because of the context in which it was shared.

It was sent to doctors, nurses and other team members at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. It was one of the weekly e-mails from chaplains who tend not only the families who cling to hope that their severely ill children will live, but are the spiritual support for the medical professionals who daily have to face the fact that their best efforts and the leading edge of science will not always save a child.

It is an awesome job they do. And it is profound wisdom on that institution's part to nurture the spiritual dimension of all the people involved. It goes far beyond the chaplain's e-mail messages, and there's no space to tell about it. I am so grateful that my niece works in that environment.

Imagine a workplace where you start your week with a message that tells you you're worth a lot, you have lots of company in your struggles, that sets the tone for people to support each other. I dare say not many of us do; that's a fact of life in the working world of adults.

There are a lot of us who would probably be suspicious of a word of praise. We easily take offense or disparage someone else's expression of spirituality. We can't be comfortable with administering or accepting even a reserved verbal version of that exuberant physical stuff male athletes do to applaud each other.

It must be something we could learn if we tried. No need to buy a card. Really, don't sift the Internet for something rhymy and right.

Let me just start by saying “;thanks.”; Next step, try “;good job.”; Full sentence, “;I liked what you did when ...”; Aim for pithy.

Let's not wait for a chaplain to come on board.