“IF I COULD TELL YOU, I WOULD LET YOU KNOW…” (W.H. Auden)
Writing letters of condolences to someone who is grieving is difficult, as anyone knows who has lived even a short while. We’ve all had to write such notes at one time or another and know the enormity of the task. What are words — puffs of air or ink scrawled upon a page. Yet we pretend they can ease a mind ravaged with sorrow. We perform our task knowing that among society’s rituals, letters of condolence are the most useless.
Why do we put grieving people through such an ordeal? Why do we act in a way that forces them to pause from their mourning to console us?
We write, I suppose, in the hope that any manner of expression is better than silence … that the pain is shallow enough to be soothed by words. We know we are fools to think so.
Still, I did receive a note from a widow recently, elegant in its simplicity:
“…if I were conventionally religious I might well have left this world. I really do understand how strong the impulse to self-destruction can be. But I do not believe that I can find him anywhere and he is for me irreplaceable.”