Missed You Will Be

I’ve been thinking about words of sympathy. I read a daily dose of them, see, because I’m one of the lucky 134 million Americans who hold a Facebook account.

Facebook users are highly sympathetic, but I don’t know if their words always match their actual level of concern. Maybe they do. I’m willing to accept that writing “Prayers” in response to posts about friends’ troubles is shorthand for an expression of deeper sorrow or more complicated compassion. That said, when you write “Prayers” for the loss of a parent and the loss of car keys, we have to wonder how much praying is really going on.

But my main gripe about expressions of grief is that sympathizers so often use the passive voice instead of the active voice. A quick reminder: In the active voice, the subject performs the action: The boy wrecked his four-wheeler. In the passive voice, the subject isn’t taking a direct action: The four-wheeler was wrecked by the boy.

(And hey, that boy damn well better be wearing a helmet.)

You can see that the active voice is more straightforward; it better expresses what’s happening.
• Eric Clapton didn’t sing, “The sheriff was shot by me.” He said, “I shot the sheriff.”
• Frankie Valli crooned, “My eyes adored you,” not “You were adored by my eyes.”
• The Stylistics sang “Betcha by golly, wow,” not “Wow-wee … um … Well, you get my point.

Now, there are times when the passive voice is preferred, such as when the performer is not known: The plastic forks were taken. Another appropriate time to use the passive voice is when the writer wishes to be vague or impersonal. Unfortunately, that’s the context in which so many sympathy expressers place themselves—just when they’re making a very personal statement.

When I am deeply grieved by the death of someone, I try to remember to say or write, “I’ll miss him.” Right? It’s a straightforward expression of my feelings. But I often hear or read people say, “She will be missed.” Or when a colleague leaves the workplace, the farewell card is filled with a similar phrase: “You will be missed.”

What if you went to visitation at a funeral home, and when it came your turn to speak to a friend whose wife had died, you said, “She will be missed.” And what if the grieving widower said, “She will? By whom? Do you have, like, a list? Oh, you mean by you? Do you mean you will miss her?”

Grieving widowers never say that, so don’t worry. But by removing yourself from the statement, you are also removing yourself from the sentiment. You’re saying the deceased will be missed by unnamed individuals or by the population at large or by … what are you saying?

Look, maybe you really do want to take yourself out of the picture. Maybe you won’t miss the guy. But if you will, own it. And say it with words: “I’ll miss him.”

Burial at Sea(t)

“My plate’s pretty full right now.”

You probably hear or say a variation of that phrase every day, and I say it myself sometimes. We’re not at the China Buffet when we say it, of course. We’re likely talking to someone who has just asked us to take on a project for work or church or community or school or whatever. It’s not that we don’t want to do it; it’s just that our plate is already full of projects for work and church and community and school and whatever.

And while I might say that my plate is full, that’s not the truth. What I mean is my seat is full. My chair at the table in our breakfast room is the repository for all the stuff I need to deal with: bills to be paid, mail to be handled, receipts to be filed, magazines to be read, and items to be stored.

This system was created by my wife, who has a knack—and a need—for neatness. At some point Mary Beth must have dropped off my daily mail on the table in front of my seat, probably after finding the mail-sorter-thingy already filled with bills to be paid, mail to be … you get the picture. After a few days of mail piled up, she must have asked me to go through my stuff, and I possibly/probably moved it from the table to the seat. Out of sight, don’t you know. After a while, Mary Beth just started adding to the stack of stuff on the chair.

So my system has come to this: Periodically I’ll stand by the chair and sort through the stack-o-crap and see if there is anything that requires urgent action. Naturally, the non-urgent stuff just stays on the stack. You might be asking—as my wife does with increasing intensity—why I don’t just handle these items as they come in. Just pay the bill, read the article, file the receipt, etc.

That’s like asking the manager of a restaurant why you have to wait for your food: If they’d simply cook it right after you ordered it, you’d be fed and gone much sooner. But like the kitchen at a popular restaurant, I get a little backed up.

You should see me sit in the damned thing. On any given day the seat could be loaded with three newspapers, a legal pad with notes from Wednesday’s meeting, a pack of light bulbs I need to return to Kroger (wrong size), and forty-three pieces of mail, so I have to perch my butt on about an inch and a half of wood. One day soon, the chair will flip forward and dump all that stuff on top of me. I’ll be buried beneath my backlog.

If you’d like to discuss this situation in person, feel free to stop by the house and come on in. Oh, don’t sit there, though.