Last weekend, I attended a function where I happened to sit behind a woman who was on her phone throughout the three-hour event.
I admit that once in a while, I would glance at what she was up too, which was not difficult to do because she held her phone upright.
At one point, she went to Google and searched: “Condolence examples.” She then patiently scrolled through them until she came across one that seemed to impress her. She copied it, went to her contacts list and pasted it on a message to someone called Moraa. And then she went back to social media.
I could not help chuckling to myself because, several times, I too have been guilty of this kind of stealing. I especially steal this way during the Christmas and New Year season when, being in a charitable mood, many of us use our precious airtime to send goodwill messages even to people we haven’t talked to in decades
Hesitant to type out a new Merry Christmas or Happy New Year message to everyone that sends me one, I normally select the best one someone has sent me and then forward it to everyone who sends me a message.
Why do I get the feeling that I am not the only one who does this?
That woman took her stealing a notch higher though, because it has never occurred to me to pick a pre-written condolence message online and send it to a grieving relative or friend.
It is true that technology has made us lazy, thanks to the many shortcuts it offers us. In retrospect, however, I somewhat understand why that woman would copy-paste a message that should ideally be heartfelt and send it to a friend or whoever it is she sent it to — the fact is that, there is nothing as awkward as consoling a person in mourning.
I know this because whenever I am in the presence of someone who is grieving, especially someone that I am not particularly close to, I feel inadequate, I never quite know what to say … in case it’s inappropriate or hollow-sounding. Neither do I know how to behave or what to do.
I have lost someone who was dear to me, so I could say, “I know how you feel.” Do I really know how they feel though? I could also say, “He’s in a better place,” but how do I know that? Or, “It was her time …” Says who? If anything, it sounds so insensitive.
Perhaps I could say, “Time will heal the pain you’re feeling …” but that would make me sound like a self-help book, wouldn’t it.
I, therefore, end up just sitting there silently with the others who have gone to commiserate with the person, but even the silence is uneasy because I feel that I should be saying or doing something, only that I don’t know what.
In cases where I am close to the person in mourning, I can at least help to serve the tea or wash the utensils. I can do something with myself.
From observation, I know that I am not the only one who struggles in such situations. It is in how the bodies of those I am with are tightly coiled with tension, it is in the nervous short cough, it is in the fidgeting, it is in how people sit at the edge of their seats, as if they plan to flee any second.
Please, if there is anyone out there with a book on acceptable etiquette in times of mourning, send me a copy.
The writer is Editor, My Network magazine, in the Daily Nation [email protected]