Guest Post: “Sorry For Your Loss.”

by

Chalya Dul Johnson

There seem to be some phrases that are particular to Nigerians and maybe others, I am not sure, since I have lived in Nigeria all my life. These phrases have managed to transcend the ethnic and religious differences that have torn us apart. They range from being hilarious, confusing and many times inappropriate for the situations in which they are being used. Phrases which are embedded in our culture, expressions of delight, excitement, confusion, fear and attempt to offer comfort to each other. And there seems to be no effort to correct or ensure they are used properly.

Our culture provides very strong support systems especially during weddings, birthdays and other forms of celebrations. This support is also evident when a family member, friend or loved one dies.

Death is inevitable. Like Mo Yan says, “Where there is life, death is inevitable.” Knowing this, I will confidently say we have all lost someone: a father, mother, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, friend (enemy) etc and should be able to understand what this is about.

If you live or have lived in Nigeria, then you must have heard this phrase, ‘Sorry for your loss’ after you have informed someone of the death of a family member, friend or loved one, or maybe it was said to you during a period of grief ,or you heard it while visiting to comfort someone else- or maybe you said it yourself.  It has also become the default message used by many Nigerians on social media in an attempt to offer words of comfort.

I wonder if we really think through some of these phrases and what they must mean to the person or group of people it is being said to.

This phrase ‘Sorry for your loss’ is almost always accompanied by its famous ‘cousin brother’ (another adapter Nigerian phrase) – ‘It is well’.

After the death of her Mom, my friend Yeipyeng brought to my attention the use of these phrases by social media users and the lack of empathy in it struck me like a lightning bolt!

Now I don’t know which is worse, “it is well” or “Sorry for your loss.” But I have just realized how they make me feel.

My cousin had just died and all I was trying to do as I walked into my Aunty’s house was be as quiet as possible. I pressed my back against the wall, trying to merge with the concrete, hoping that no one recognizes and calls my name. I was afraid with my new found knowledge, I might curse anyone that says sorry for my loss. I quickly scan the room and see relatives, family friends and many other unrecognizable faces. Aunty was seated in the middle of the sofa, surrounded. Groups of people periodically walked in and made space beside her, others squatted in front of her; they held her hands, shaking and rubbing them, someone else rubbed her back, another draped a hand around her shoulder in a halfhearted attempt at a hug. Then they all chant the same things repeatedly, ‘Sorry for your loss’, it is well…it is well…it is well, sorry for your loss, it is well…it is well…, Take heart, sorry for your loss, it is well…, Take heart, it is well’.

That day, all that was missing from the scene is a choirmaster to lead the chorus. I even waited for the request that we turn to Hymn 901 from the famous red covered Sacred Songs and Solos and start singing.

As a Christian, I believe in resurrection on the day of judgement, and we comfort one another with the assurance that life and death are temporal, but come on! It can’t be well when all you have left are sweet memories that make you smile and shed tears; along with bitter memories that fill you with regrets and more shed tears. How can it be well when a loved one is gone forever in the flesh? How can it be well when in the midst of your grief all you can think is, “How can I move on?”, “What happened?” and “Where do I start from?”

There must be a thousand and one things going through the minds of grieving people. I personally remember the faces that were there for me more than the countless words I hear. I remember hugs not the words, the holding of hands, the helpful hands and  the presence of people. Probably other people feel this way too because why else do i usually hear, “Thank you for being there for me/us?” and not “Thank you for the things you said to me/us?”

A little more about ‘sorry for your loss’.

When we are truly comforting another person, is it just their loss? Are we not comforting them because we identify with them and want to make them know that we understand? So how does saying sorry for your loss show that I mourn with you when I clearly said it is “YOUR LOSS.”

Now close your eyes after reading this paragraph and imagine that a family member, friend or loved one has died and you are sitting on the cushion like my Aunty, and the first thing you hear is, “it is well.”

Do you truly feel well?

Imagine that the next thing you hear is, “Sorry for your loss.”

What are you suppose to say in acknowledgement?

I just heard myself reply, “My loss, then why are you here?”

Personally I have learnt not to use these phrases when comforting others,  I must not be heard during the grieving period, but  seen. That for me, is truly being there for one another.

And please, what does “take heart” mean?

I’ll just quietly leave that alone.

 

 

 

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21 Comments Add yours

  1. Anny N says:

    that was really a life touching one keep it up!

    Like

  2. tchaliyah says:

    Thanks Anny. I’m glad you found it useful.

    Like

  3. Hettie says:

    I opened the link to see what I would find as a substitute for saying those things, as much as presence should be felt for comfort, there are still words that have to be said. It is not only weird to say sorry for your loss but also grammatically incorrect. If you were to say that and be grammatically correct then it should be sorry about your loss, however a simply my condolences or I am sorry are usually sufficient.

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    1. tchaliyah says:

      Thanks for your comment Hettie. And I’m sorry if this post fell short of your expectations, this is my very first write up for a social media audience and I think as much as a lot of us read blog posts we somehow don’t notice how other bloggers write, so I just wrote my thoughts. Thanks for pointing out ‘sorry about your loss’ is grammatically correct. I personally feel just saying sorry or my condolences are inadequate, how about offering to be there if they need someone to talk to or say ‘I can’t imagine how you feel right now, but I’m praying for you and your family’. I truly don’t know how to console people with words and I visit and try to talk about other stuff which can also be annoying or insensitive, there’s no ‘How to console others for dummies’ and I have learnt a lot today about consolation.

      Like

  4. Chris says:

    Thanks for sharing your thots Chalya. I personally am guilty of saying these thoughtless words sometimes. Though I still think that because we Nigerians are also easy adapters, we have somehow grown to accept the adapted words as part of us, by just understanding that the person had nothing better to say than ‘ it is well’, or ‘ sorry for your loss’. But like u noted, maybe we could all learn to silently offer the gift of ‘being there’ to our loved ones at the appropriate times. Please lets ‘take heart’ & until better adapters are formulated, ‘it is well’.

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    1. tchaliyah says:

      Very funny, Indeed, we should take heart. We could offer to be there for them when they need someone to talk to though.

      Like

  5. Oh my dear Chaliya, ” I’m so sorry for your loss, I did not know you lost your cousin brother. Kai, take heart you hear, It is well. Don’t cry ehn”…..lol!!!!

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    1. Hahaha, Talitha hitting it up with the trifecta and more. When are you going to guest blog is what we want to know.

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    2. tchaliyah says:

      LOL. I comment my reserve.

      Like

  6. Nys 1 dear bt I think u should have concluded wit the way forward like wat 2 say instead of sori 4 ur loss

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    1. tchaliyah says:

      Mr. Ashir, thanks for your comment. Ive replied you on Facebook though.

      Like

  7. kezy says:

    An insightful piece. What ever those “words” really mean is a food for thought.. thumbs up dear

    Like

    1. tchaliyah says:

      Thanks for reading! Kezy ☺

      Like

  8. Umar Turaki says:

    For all my love for words and the ways people use them, my tongue feels like lead every time I have to say something to a grieving person. I often feel phoney as I begin to speak and feel more genuine by just offering a physical gesture of comfort. But I think our seemingly insensitive choice of words in such moments is just one of the indicators of how desensitised we have become to death as humans. I see it every time I go to a funeral. Death has become so natural to us when it is anything but. We have became so comfortable with the fact of it that the true significance of the loss at hand never truly registers, until it is happening to you. I like to force myself to sit in the grief, to take it in, the fact of the person’s undoing, to truly feel it, so that when I walk away, it is with a profound awareness of what a privilege it is to still be alive and a renewed conviction to not squander that privilege. So at the end of the day, I feel it is better to sit and stew with the person in the pain than attempt to whitewash the emotion with shallow words. I’m with you on this one, Chalya! Well done and thank you.

    Like

    1. tchaliyah says:

      I love this comment Umar. Thanks for the insights.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ibrahim Faruk says:

    I like Umar’s comment. It also shows that he really has a way with words. I have often heard it said that you don’t fully understand or grasp what it means to lose a loved one, family member or friend until it happens to you. I haven’t lost a member of my nuclear family, for example, so I often feel inadequate to console someone who has. I just go and sit there and try to make a conversation, the person obviously knows why I have come, sometimes pray for comfort with the person or let them know you would be praying and will be available if they need anything (I usually fail in that last one). Hope I didn’t end up writing another blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. tchaliyah says:

      Thank you for reading Ibrahim ☺

      Like

  10. Kuret Rinmak says:

    I had to take my time through the write up and confess I have picked a lesson… most time we just feel comfortable with our “Nigerian phrases” of greeting without considering the grammatical message.. ‘sorry for your Loss’, sounds subtle till you gave this explanation which I appreciate… “it is well” which is my favorite verse to quote to people when in difficulty and when I seem short of words, is something I consider softer than saying “thank God for everything ” considering what my ‘faith’ talks about when facing difficulties… Right now, I am beginning to think of a different Phrase to adopt… Thanks for the words tchaliyah, stored in my heart

    Like

    1. tchaliyah says:

      Thank you for reading Kuret, I appreciate your comment. ☺☺

      Like

  11. Seyi Lovingkindness says:

    Hmmmmm certainly a delicious thought provoking , “guilt tripping” very well crafted. Keep pouring out more writings and I will read them.
    That said. As a dramatist, I recognize the what, why, how and to whom a Line is spoken paticularly in this context, the HOW is all very important. Nigerians are very dramatic , we value expressionisms* and showcasecisms* some times we don’t think it through before these words fall out of our gapping mouth ,with good intent except for those blablabla who give no blablabla and just show up to blablabla (if you know what i mean). The Bible says “say to the righteous it is well” so putting it in proper perspective is key.

    “Sorry for your loss ” and the terrible “hard luck and take heart ” “I know how you feel” are just void and ice cold but I know we, I mean THEY use these expressions for no reason other than “let me sha say something too, make e no bi like say I no talk too”.
    We all ought learn the Fine Art of golden silence and realistic caring and loving empathetic expressions at such emotional low times.while Being original in our own words of comfort.

    What then shall they and we say in times like that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. tchaliyah says:

      Seyi, thank you for reading, I smiled all through reading your comment.
      What then shall you say?
      😁😁😁😁😁
      “Say to the righteous it will be well with them”.

      I might just do a follow up post. But in my naughtiness lemme suggest ka kira ni in zaka he gaisuwa.🙊

      Like

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