When There are no Words

15 Jun 2021

I wrote last week about my love of crafting; specifically, card making.

Most cards have words on the front: Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Thank You. If there are no words on the front, they are usually on the inside. In crafting terms, these words are known as sentiments and are normally applied to the card using a rubber stamp (these days, the stamps are photopolymer). Sometimes, however, the cards are just beautiful images and are blank inside, so the card can be used for any occasion and contain a personal message.

Some occasions are harder to make cards for than others. Cards for men are often a challenge; especially if the intended recipient is not a sports fan, does not drink beer, and does not listen to rock music. Personally, I don’t see why a man would not appreciate a card with flowers; many of my male friends are gardeners and would be happy to receive a card with their favourite flower. Usually, however, my cards for men feature transport, maps, cogs, clocks or wild animals.

The most difficult of all are condolence cards. There are many suitable images but the words I have in my sentiment collection seem either inadequate or trite. In the end, I mostly use, “With Sympathy,” and leave it at that.

Several family friends have lost loved ones during the last year: some during the most stringent lockdown. We have been unable to attend the funerals and unable to give these friends the hugs we would have wished. Words, usually in email, on social media, or in a card have been all we could give; and they have seemed so inadequate.

This week I will make another card for a dear friend who, last night, was sitting by her father’s bedside as he slipped away.

I don’t live close enough to pop round with food, or to help her in any practical way; besides she has family and other friends who do live nearby. All I have is words.

If I have learned one thing about grief and loss, however, it is that words, which seem so inadequate to us when we voice them, mean a lot to the person going through that grief and loss. When my uncle died in 2013 – the uncle who brought me up after my father died, every expression of sympathy was treasured. Every time someone said, “I was sorry to hear about your uncle; he was a lovely man,” I was comforted. When people said, “I didn’t know him, but I do know how much he meant to you, and I’m so sorry,” it was balm for my grief.

I have a sentiment in my collection which says, “Words cannot express the deep sorrow felt for your loss.” But words can, and they do help; more than we can know.

When there are no words, there are still words, and they need to be said.


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