April 6, 2013

Dear Clusterflock: What was the most comforting condolence sentence you ever heard?

Stolen from Metafilter. I don’t have a MeFi account, so I can’t even favorite things over there, much less comment. So I figured I’d re-pose the question here.

The MeFi thread is great, but bring tissues. I loved this one most:

My uncle, Albert Crary, was an extraordinary man. Not only was he an explorer and scientist of both poles (The Crary Mountains in Antarctica were named by him and the A.P. Crary Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo Station was named fo him) but he gathered stories like no one I’ve ever met. At his public memorial in Washington DC at, I believe, the Cosmos Club, speaker after speaker got up and told about his staunchness, his incredible endurance, but most importantly, they all told a funny story about him: The time he fell off the ice shelf and what he said to the preacher after his rescue when the preacher came looking for a good sermon. The time he went shopping for supplies in South America when they were running a geophysical line across a South American swamp. The time my father put my brother up to calling him and acting like a dumb reporter asking the stupidest questions imaginable about the ice island T3.

Months later, we had a private memorial in his hometown of Canton, New York. One-by-one his nieces, nephews, in-laws and friends got up and told more stories. To all of us he’d been the source of fun, support and laughter when we were growing up – he never let any of us take ourselves too seriously, but he was always there when anyone needed help. When my turn came, I got up, told my story and then said this:

Everyone deserves an Uncle Albert, we were just fortunate enough to have had one.
posted by BillW at 5:23 PM on March 30

(Via the wonderful Ed Yong.)


  1. India on April 6th, 2013 at 10:30 am

    So, first off, I can tell you what didn’t help.

    When my mother’s godmother died, who had been to me more like what your stereotypical beloved grandmother would be than had either of my actual grandmothers—one of whom died when I was young and the other of whom was a petty, ignorant, mean, self-centered, and generally pitiable person—there were all these classic big-hatted church ladies at the service, one of whom said, in response to my unsuppressible weeping, “Why are you crying? She’s in a better place now!”

    I know you probably thought you meant well, you holier-than-thou old biddy, but fuck you.

    When my dad died, the only thing I can remember helping was a sense of humor. Anything that would have made Dad laugh was good. In fact, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned here, as we sat around at the hospital waiting for Dad, who had been disconnected from the respirator, to die, but before the truly horrible, wrenching rattle started, we told all the dirty jokes we could think of. Because he’d loved to tell and hear jokes, and he loved slang and creative obscenity, and we hoped maybe he could hear us and be comforted. Similarly, at our annual New Year’s Day party, which that year became his wake, everybody was recounting stories about him or that they’d heard from him, and that was wonderful.

    It’s helpful, when you can’t stop crying, to at least be able to break it up with a few laughs.

    Other than that, I don’t remember anything specific that anybody said to me. I remember getting a joint card from two people I knew through work stuff, whom I hadn’t really thought of as my real-life friends, who’d never met any of my family, just saying some basic condolence thing. The fact that they wrote at all is what made an impression, and somehow it made me feel better than hearing from people who’d known us since forever. Maybe because it made me feel like I was part of some larger societal ritual, and not just in this tiny, isolated, self-absorbed bubble of misery.

    Which I suppose is why these customs exist.

  2. India on April 6th, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Happy Saturday!

  3. Cindy Scroggins on April 6th, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Oh, India. How I miss you.

    I have never been consoled by anything anyone has said, ever in my fucking life.

    Happy Spring!

  4. India on April 6th, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I miss you, too, Cindy.

  5. Casey Cichowicz on April 6th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I never know how to express condolences, mostly because I don’t usually want any myself, but also still want people to express something. So I shoot for something as close to simple acknowledgement as possible.


  6. Daryl Scroggins on April 6th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Lovely to see you, dear India.

    I tend to favor humor as well, and also, as Casey says, very simple acknowledgement. In the times when I have experienced a big loss, I have liked it best when a friend came and looked kind of sad for a second or two–and then said “Let’s go throw rocks in the lake.”

  7. India on April 6th, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Ohhhhhh, that’s what we’re missing here: a lake. And rocks.

    I’d also like to commend the colleague who suggested that our boss send a fruit basket when Dad died. That let Mom and me entertain each other with indignant exclamations about how much we dislike certain fruits, for at least a week.

    How about hotdish? People don’t bring each other bereavement hotdish in NYC, unfortunately, but I think we might have enjoyed that. Does a pan of macaroni and cheese count? How about lasagne? Does anyone here have a favorite hotdish recipe?

  8. Daryl Scroggins on April 6th, 2013 at 3:03 pm


  9. Kathy Hilen-Smith on April 7th, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Several years ago when my grandmother died, a lovely woman I work with brought me a potato casserole– the potatoes were shredded hash-brown style, baked in butter, cheddar cheese, and sour cream and topped with some kind of crunchy crumbly bits. Talk about a comforting hotdish. Almost joined grandma at the pearly gates.

    I never know what to do or say when someone dies. Lana’s potatoes were like punctuation at the end of an unspoken sentence.

  10. India on April 7th, 2013 at 9:31 am

    It sounds like you got yourself a classic dish of Mormon Funeral Potatoes.

  11. Daryl Scroggins on April 7th, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Somehow a dish made of earthy potatoes sounds right. This reminds me of the way people in Oaxaca (and other places, I imagine) celebrate Day of the Dead with dishes that include maguey worms.

  12. Kathy Hilen-Smith on April 7th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Oh yes India… those are the tators. Odd part is my friend is not one who would be savvy to Mormon ways.