Why I Don’t Offer Condolences

Over the past year or so, a surprising number of people close to me have either had a close family member pass away, or have died themselves. I’ve been to a few funerals in my life, and I’m not new to the concept of losing someone I love or am close to. And after serious thought and contemplation about it I’ve come to terms with the fact that life is a temporary condition. The rest of the time, I’m just trying to enjoy what time I have left and to surround myself with people I hold dear to make that time as happy and lovely as possible.

That said, there is one thing I don’t do. One thing I refuse to do. And that would be offering condolences on someone’s loss. Not because I don’t want to console someone I love, and not because I like seeing those people in pain, but because I respect the grieving process immensely.

Let me explain.

"That's all, folks"
“That’s all, folks!”

I can understand why people will offer their condolences after hearing the news, and this post isn’t to say that such a statement is empty or doesn’t mean anything. It’s a convenient, easily-understood way of expressing that there is someone there to help with easing the transition from life with the lost person, to life without them. And that’s a wonderful sentiment, really it is. Whether someone believes in an afterlife or not, such an expression is meant to express that someone else cares enough to extend themselves to help the person in their grief.

Maybe the fact that I don’t have any belief in an afterlife (or call it “post-death existence”, whatever works) forcing me to deal with this beyond the “they’re in a better place” statement that may otherwise be made, but I have made it a habit to try and actively encourage those I love to remember not just that the person they lost existed, and that they should be glad to have know someone capable of leaving that impact on them. It’s a rarer feeling than we sometimes remember. In the emotional turmoil following that trauma of having that element removed from one’s existence, that realization can be made utterly clear.

I bring this up because it occurred to me that I did this when reading about, then commenting on, the news that a friendly San Francisco comedian passed away from terminal cancer. We only met in person a few times, the rest of our acquaintanceship online through Facebook. And the entire time, especially when she was sick, she was encouraging and displayed an undercurrent of humor along all of it, flipping the bird to Death itself like it was little more than a stubborn irritation. That was wonderful to watch. And that’s the impact she left on me: a tangible example of somebody capable of staring their own mortality in the eye, and laughing in its face. And I don’t mourn that at all… on the contrary, I cherish that. I appreciate that. And I want to encourage the smiling, laughing face I associate with that person to be the lasting impact they have had on me and anyone else that witnessed it.

In brief – and I recognize that while I don’t speak for anyone or any group in particular, only for myself – I would much rather celebrate the time someone had than be sad for how brief that time might have been. I choose how to approach such a loss… I can either be sad that they’re gone “too soon”, which may or may not be true (they may have gone on to do so many more great things, there’s always the chance for it), or I can be reminded of how much they were able to do in the statistically shorter amount of time they were able to spend with the rest of us. Life’s already pretty short as it is.

So friends, let’s appreciate that short time we’re allotted with every little story, every minor moment, because it’ll be those things we honestly miss the most… and they’ll be the things we spend the most time reflecting in the best possible way. Hug someone close if you can, tell them you love them, and honor how much they mean to you.

Let’s stand tall with the smile our lost loved ones deserve. If you would like to share a great (or even minor, mundane) story in tribute and welcome nostalgia, please feel free to do so in comments. And… rest in peace, Corie Gibson.