“I’m Sorry For Your Loss”

This past Sunday, we celebrated the life of my grandmother who recently passed away 7 months after being diagnosed with cancer.

I like to tell myself that I knew from the day that she was diagnosed that we would have to face this day, to say goodbye, sooner than I had hoped. It is my way of coping, to remind myself that on the bright side, we knew it was coming so we were able to at least say our goodbyes.

At our open house for her (as she said “there will be no funerals for members of this house!” – referring to her and my grandfather), I had family friends and distant relatives tell me, “I’m sorry for your loss” – I had always known of the phrase as common but never thought much of it.

Suddenly I found it absurd.

This isn’t just my loss – they knew her too – it is their loss as well. It is the world’s loss. Even as an elderly woman, she was involved in a cribbage club, a caregiver’s group, a book club, a bowling league, and kept in touch with other good friends in addition to loving her family. No matter how well any of us knew her, she made an impact on all of our lives and now, she is gone.

Even as a close family member, I shared her with three great-grandchildren, six other grandchildren, her three daughters, her husband, and her cat. While I felt exceptionally close compared to the other grandchildren – living with her for a summer, calling 2-3 times a week at least – I can appreciate everyone else’s love for her as well. If anyone truly deserves to hear “I’m sorry for your loss” it is my grandfather who spent the past 64 years with her and whom she took care of in her final years.

We all lost a great woman and no one should have to tell another “I’m sorry for your loss.” Rather, it is “I’m sorry for our loss” or if it must be specified in any circumstance, “I’m sorry about your grandmother/grandfather/uncle/aunt/mom/dad/sibling/dog/etc.”

From my experience, the possession associated with “I’m sorry for your loss” is not felt as deserved as a family member grieving. Perhaps this denial of possession is to spread the grief and sadness, but I’d like to think of it as wishing to spread the joy of having known such a wonderful person to not think of it as the negative of losing the person, but the gain of having known them.

It is small things like this that we must acknowledge when looking at the world, choosing how to think, and deciding what to say. It’s the difference between a loss and a gain. It’s the difference between keeping something to yourself or sharing it with the world. It’s the difference in perspective.

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

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