Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is "I'm sorry" enough - another perpective

Last week when I published the post titled "Is saying 'I'm sorry' enough?", I got several comments, both on the blog and via social media, thanking me for what I said and with some people expressing their own agreement. But there were a couple of people who felt differently, and fairly strongly so. I reasoned that there may be more who felt this way, so I asked one of them, Laurie, if she'd be willing to write a guest post and share her perspective on this amtter. Here is what she had to say.

Up until Pat wrote his article, Is saying "I'm sorry" enough?, I had never said anything to anyone on how much I dislike the phrase, “I’m sorry”. But given Pat has been through a similar situation as myself I couldn’t hold my tongue anymore. I explained in general how the phrase had become a pet peeve of mine. Pat mentioned many people were like him they found solace in “I’m sorry”. However my response was unique enough among those that he received he thought I might not be alone in this perspective and asked me to write on my perception.

Laurie with her father
For me when something tragic and unexpected occurs to someone you know there are a handful of ways you can react. Your reaction can be over the top dramatic, crying, and sobbing and carrying on, it can be stoic, or it can even be bewilderment. However, whatever your reaction is to the tragic news one of the worst things you can say in my book is say, “I’m sorry”. Why is it this little phrase bugs me so much?

This phrase bothers me because it has become the catch all phrase people use when they don’t know what to say but they think they should say something. This little phrase, “I’m sorry” is used regardless and constantly to console someone from the loss of a set of keys to a bad day at work. “I’m sorry” is said with the same casual civility one would use to say good morning, or hello. There is generally no thought or emotion behind it. “I’m sorry” has become a filler phrase.

A filler phrase that I heard at a constant rate immediately after my Dad drowned in a boating accident in 1997. After the first 50 times I heard it I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. These people didn’t cause Dad’s death, why are they sorry? Did they capsize the boat? Did they make the river freezing that gave him hypothermia? No! So then why the hell are they sorry? I knew they were saying it because they didn’t know what to say to me or to my family but they felt they should say something.

Maybe for the rest of the family it was enough solace that people were sorry. For me I would have preferred people say nothing and pat my shoulder or give me a hug. Granted a hug from a stranger or acquaintance is rather odd. A hand shake and a kind word or antic dote about Dad would have been enough. For the most part many folks did just that, but many of the acquaintances that knew my family for decades but didn’t know me well fell into the “I’m sorry” category. So when you hear of some tragic event that befalls someone you know whether they are a good friend or an acquaintance take a few minutes before you respond. Whatever it is you choose to say make sure you are sincere and sometimes the cliché actions speak louder than words are never more apropos when tragedy strikes unexpectedly.


  1. Laurie............I totally agree with you there. I know and feel your pain, I lost my mom January 1997 to cancer, I kept hearing I'm sorry. "Filler phrase", they didn't cause my mom to get cancer, they didn't make her sick, or cause her to die, cancer did. So as far as I'm sorry, that is just something for someone to say when they don't know what to say. A kind word, hug, or shoulder to cry on would be much better then a filler phrase.

    So yes I totally agree with you on that one. I knew Pat's wife, went to school with her. I know.......on that horrible day, the world lost a wonderful woman, amazing friend, mom and wife. Aimee could make anyone smile with just a smile of her own.

  2. Yes, some people say an automatic "I'm sorry" without thinking about it, but here are the things going though my head when I say it to someone who is going though a tragic loss: "I'm sorry this happened, I'm sorry you're feeling so much pain and I wish I could do something to help, I'm sorry that your life will never be the same, I'm sorry I can't seem to think of an appropriate thing to say, and words seem so ridiculously insufficient at a moment like this, and I'm profoundly sad for you." Not all of that comes out my mouth, or in my note, but that's the meaning behind it.

    Americans have an awkward time with grief - in general, we don't tend to process it well communally, or acknowledge it healthfully - but conversations like this can only help. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, because the next time "I'm sorry" comes out of my mouth, I will try my hardest to explain what the heck I'm sorry for and what I mean by it.

    1. Thanks Rachael. You're absolutely right - Americans are terrible at dealing with grief.