Saturday, 8 April 2017

On being a fuckwit

Something I’ve discovered is how many stock phrases are said to bereaved people. One of my least favourite is the question “Is there anything I can do?" Now, think for a moment about what the other person can’t decently say because it would seem too presumptuous or needy.
They cannot even say:
You could invite me round for a meal.
You could just ask me round for a coffee.
You could phone me for ten minutes on a Friday night because that’s when I feel such despair at the weekend stretching ahead.
It may be that they do have someone they can say these things to but as the enquirer you need to a. assume that they don’t b. ask yourself if they can really say them to you. If you think they can’t, YOU ask them round or phone them for a chat. 
In the end, when people asked me if there was anything they could do, I would respond:
Not unless you can think of anything (fuckwit.)
The fuckwit is in parenthesis because I didn’t actually say that bit. In any case, I’ve fallen into the fuckwit category myself in the past. I’ve even gone a step worse than asking if there is anything I can do and I’ve just said nothing at all. I did this when someone in the office lost her husband years ago. I really wanted to tell her how sorry I was. The first time I went into the office I plucked up my courage…and then someone else spoke to her about a letter that needed sending and the moment just wasn’t right. After that I felt stupid saying anything because I’d already seen her and so the sum total of what I said was this
absolutely nothing…
 I felt guilty about this but I told myself it didn’t matter as she no doubt had lots of other people helping her and I might be intruding on her grief and anyhow she would know how sorry I felt, surely that was a given?
 All absolute fuckwittery on my part.
When you are grieving, you will usually find a source of solace in those who have been through a major bereavement themselves. Apart from a few rare souls, most other people will be as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Those who have been bereaved come to you out of their own pain, they almost come because they need help- and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This post has come about because I've bumped into a few people recently who've all told me they've been thinking about me constantly or  been wondering whether to get in touch etc, etc. I've no idea if this is true, all I know is that they haven't been in touch. I don't blame them for this because I know that most of us find  subjects such as illness, suffering and death very difficult to deal with. I wish we didn't but we do. Meanwhile I just remain fervently thankful for those people who have kept in touch and pledge in the future to show more empathy  myself-  or be less of a fuckwit if you prefer that idea.


  1. Perhaps those of us who have trodden this path ought, when we are able, to put together a sort of idiots' guide with useful phrases for this so very difficult time.
    Maybe the people who really mean it when they say "is there anything I can do?" would benefit from a list of suggestions.
    e.g. Would you like some company, could I come round to see you, when would be best for you?
    If you don't feel up to a visit suppose we meet for a coffee?
    There's a concert, film, talk on such and such a date, I'd like to go, would you like to come too?
    Suggesting something positive, even if unwelcome would be better than the vague "is there anything....."
    I had a neighbour who just dropped in without any warning and said "I'm walking Ziggie (the dog) would you like to come too.
    Never having considered such a thing, not even a dog-lover I simply said "yes", put my coat on and went.
    Little things are hugely important and slowly help to build the sociable side hidden in even the most reclusive newly bereaved person.
    If someone asks just say "could you come round for a cup of tea and a chat."
    It takes a certain amount of courage but it is worth the effort.

  2. Perhaps there should be some sort of attempt to raise awareness and improve understanding of bereavement as there has been around issues such as mental illness, for example. I'm not complaining, I've generally got enough support to get by though I do have some moments when I don't feel that way! It does make me wonder though when someone tells me they've been thinking of me (but done nothing for six months?) Matt made me laugh by saying I could try responding, " I think that might just be a porky pie..."

  3. What an important post this is, and such good advice, Ray!
    I think most people would take action and actually be of help if they where forced into it. The difficult task is to overcome that state of choosing the appropriate time and when finding it hard, dropping the thought altogether because when time passes, you feel more foolish the longer you wait. In my ministry I try to get back to people after some time, not too long. But privately i often fail, probably because I know I couldn't hold for as much as the person needs. I think and hope there are enough people who take practical action, and the rest will carry you in their thoughts and prayers. Both are desperately needed. You have a very clear and sound view on this, may you get the comfort you truelly need!!!! And may Easter light clear the darkness of sorrow for you!