What to Say When Someone Dies, and They Were Not a Very Nice Person

I had an odd experience last week, when I found out a relative had died (via Facebook, ironically).

I use the term “relative” loosely. Technically this person and I would appear together on a family genealogy page. However, the word “relative” implies there was some sort of relationship, which in this case there was not. I had seen this person fewer than five times in my entire life. I could have passed him on the street and not recognized him.

This distance was by design. My parents kept their children far away from this particular person, both physically and emotionally, on purpose. The reason was simple — he was not a nice guy. The levels of his not-niceness I don’t truly understand, even now as an adult. I only know they did it to protect us, and I am grateful.

It’s an odd feeling to know someone has died who has some ties to you, yet also know many people don’t mourn his passing. In fact, I’d go as far to say there was a great deal of relief that he is gone. Not the typical relief when someone passes after a long and painful illness. That’s relief at the end of suffering. This type of relief had more to do with the overall sentiment that the world is a better place without him. That’s a sad statement on his life.

The truth is his passing had only a miniscule effect on my own life as I contemplated what it meant to live a life where your death is considered a blessing. Realistically, it was a blip on my radar screen.

Yet I also had a very real logistical problem. I had to send a card to people who did know him and who lives were more directly affected. In particular, I had to find an appropriately worded card that expressed sympathy without too much fluff and nonsense. Then, even more challenging, I had to write something appropriate in it.

Here’s where I stumbled, because I couldn’t say anything that I would normally write in a sympathy card. “I’m sorry for your loss” — that old standby — didn’t apply because there wasn’t really a loss at all and nobody was sorry. Neither did “Hold the good memories close” — because there weren’t any good memories. What about my standard Facebook response at the announcement of bad news: “Thinking of you.” Well, that might work, but it didn’t really capture the true sentiment.

I searched and searched the Internet for the right words. Long story short: the Internet failed me.

Am I the only person who has ever been in this situation? I find it hard to believe. There’s plenty of not-nice people out there, and they must die at some point.

So after nearly a week of thinking and searching and pulling out some hair, I came up with this one, which I share with you in hopes you can call on it when you need it: “You’ve dealt with a difficult situation with courage and grace. Thinking of you.”

May you never really need to use it.

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This entry was posted in It's My Life, Things I Couldn't Make Up If I Tried, Why I Write. Bookmark the permalink.

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