remember-momThis past week I lost both of my parents. They were elderly, and frail, and they’d had great lives, and were happy together. So no regrets.

The reason I’m writing today is to share some of the insights I gained from the condolences I received from friends and strangers over the last week. They reminded me that most people will really support a friend in pain, through words if not through deeds. And that’s most people.

But being vulnerable to pain is not the same thing as actually being in pain. If it were, we would recognize when others around us are vulnerable, and we’d respond. Because we don’t recognize it, people may be hurt and we won’t realize it until after the fact.

So when you are hurt by others, as is the case in a bullying incident, you have suffered a loss that is in a small way like the death of a loved one. You are in need of the unique support that people will give to a grieving friend.

It’s no great stretch to say that the messages we send to bullied kids could make the difference between surviving a bullying episode and a downward spiral into desperation. Now, bullied teenagers are committing suicide at an alarming rate. How can we change the messages we send them and slow down this epidemic?

Please understand that I’m not complaining about anything that was said to me among the condolences and encouragement I received when Mom and Dad passed. Hundreds of people were really kind, and I’ll always be grateful. Each word said by anyone was like a little bit of salve on my open hurts. But I noticed how some remarks affected me more profoundly than others, and I think I see why that is so, and what application it has to possibly saving the lives of bullied kids.

I found I was a bit less encouraged, as my parents lay dying, when others would tell me how much it sucks.

  • Oh my God! I can’t imagine what you must be going through!
  • It must be especially hard with one parent so sick then losing the other one.

But people make these comments based on how they believe they would feel if they were in my shoes. I know what it’s like: they just couldn’t find the words that would give comfort. We know in our hearts that we ought to say SOMETHING, but maybe we don’t know how our words will effect those they are meant to help.

And this is the thing we really must understand about ourselves: to save the lives of bullied kids, we can’t say too much of the wrong things, because it undermines whatever ability to heal they still hold on to.

  • Don’t tell them what they could do better next time.
  • Don’t openly vent anger and frustration at the perpetrators, the school, or someone’s parents.
  • Don’t tell them how life sucks, because they know it.

Instead, show them love without judgment. Which is what condolences are all about. Consider this small part of an outpouring of support after my parents passed:

  • Life is rich and I’ll be sending good thoughts because obviously, your parents did a good job.
  • Their pain is gone, and knowing that will help pull you through.
  • The memories and lessons they’ve given you will stay with you!
  • It will be the memories of the everyday moments, the good days, the fun days, the extraordinary days that keep them forever in your memory.
  • When you get through this you will be glad that you did the right thing for your parents.
  • You are “family” and our hearts just ache for all you are going through. Please know how many of us are praying for you and yours.

It may even come down to a casserole with no words at all.

But that’s the story: love without judgment. That’s what heals. That’s what will save lives.

Dedicating this to my mom, Harriet Stetler, who passed on 09.16.2013. She’d have been proud to save a bullied kid. She saved me more than once.

– Ron Graham (with help from Susan Beane)