One year I was having trouble figuring out what to get Debbie for her birthday. I was coming home from work on March 24th empty handed. Debbie’s parents were coming over, so I couldn’t go shopping. I decided to stop at the florists and get a bouquet of flowers for her.
I was at the florists when inspiration hit me. I got a card to go with the flowers and wrote her a note telling her what her gift was. For each month of the year on the 24th of the month I would buy her flowers. For as last minute as it was, I wasn’t expecting much of a reaction. But, Debbie loved the idea. It was, in fact, so well received, that I just kept doing it year after year.
At first, I would put a little card in with the flowers and put a note in saying, “Happy Birthday!” After about six months, Debbie told me that having a birthday every month was making her feel old. So, I changed the note to, “Happy 24th!”
Over the years I got her flowers in most months and if I missed I tried to make it up later. Sometimes that meant buying her a couple rose bushes when planting season came. Some summers when she was gone to training for the next year’s teaching I would text her pictures of flowers from our yard. One year I put pictures of flowers in luggage for her to find.
After Debbie died, I wanted to still send flowers. I started to send flowers on the 24th to some of the places where Debbie’s treatments had been. Or places that worked with breast cancer patients. And to Debbie’s class at the Minnesota Waldorf School. I would simply put in an unsigned note the read, “Happy 24th!” Johann Garcia, the teacher who took on Debbie’s class guessed it was me quickly.
After about six months I stopped, except for the flowers at school. About twice a year, I’ll get a bouquet for Ms. Garcia’s class. It’s been a nice to keep a connection with the class.
Happy 24th to all of you! Thanks for reading.
I’ve had three funerals since Thursday. I’ve had death and grieving on my mind. I know many people struggle with trying to find the right words to say to people who’ve lost someone.
We’re wired to want to help someone who feels bad, but sometimes words that are meant to help can sound differently to someone in pain. I’ve come up with a quick way for you to check yourself before you say something.
When Debbie passed away one of the best analogies I heard about losing a loved one was that it was like having a limb amputated. It’s gone, it’s not going to grow back, and you need to learn to live without it. That was in my mind as I was thinking about what to write in sympathy cards and I came up with this idea.
Pretend you’re talking to a person who has just had their leg amputated and substitute “your leg” for the name of the person who just died. If it doesn’t sound right, you might want to rethink what you’re going to say.
Here’s some samples of things that aren’t great. (It’s ok to laugh; they can sound silly.)
“It was quick, and your leg didn’t suffer.”
“At least your leg had a long and full life.”
“It was your leg’s time to go.”
“Your leg wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
“Be thankful for the time you had with your leg.”
And, my favorite, “You leg is in a better place.”
What are some better things to say? Express your concern and sympathy. Mention what their leg, oops sorry, the person who passed away meant to you. Recall a fond memory of them. Tell them you’re praying for them.
The worst thing you can say is nothing. Do not let your fear of saying the wrong thing get in the way of acknowledging someone’s pain. You may not have the magic words to say to take away their suffering, but knowing they’re not alone helps.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.