Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When words fail

I've heard from a few people in the last few days who confess that they wanted to call/write me earlier, but they just didn't know what to say.

I just want to go on the record as saying I totally get it. I, too, am a member of that club. I am unilaterally lousy at expressing my condolences to folks, to the point of sometimes (gulp) not even sending a card because I was so blocked on what to say. Anything I could come up with seemed completely inadequate and trite.

What's worse, even now I am having trouble playing my part in this... whatever it is. As I've been calling around to cancel accounts and such, the well-trained service rep invariably says something suitable like "I'm so sorry for your loss." All I can come up with is "Thanks. Yeah, it really sucks." There's usually a few seconds of silence after that.

I don't think that's quite what they're expecting from me, but it's all I got.

So, fellow members of the "Ummm...." Club, now that I'm on the receiving end, I can state with authority that it really doesn't matter what you say. Even a bald "I'm sorry, I don't know what to say" works just fine. Who knew it could be so simple?

Another thing I've learned is that sometimes, in lieu of flowers, people send delicious FOOD GIFT BASKETS! How cool, right? I had no idea. I've received a few now and they've been such wonderful treats that I'm stealing the idea.

So there's just a few of the valuable life lessons I've learned so far. All I can say is that by the time I get through this particular Personal Growth Opportunity I'd better fucking glow with wisdom. Just sayin'.


  1. You are right, just a simple, "I'm sorry," is enough when we are in pain. Simple words that mean a lot.

  2. I remember those days so well Liz. People wouldn't say anything and it was so much worse. I wanted to scream "Did you all forget what happened to me?" It's been 15 years this month and honestly, I still recall the day an executive at our workplace (we worked together so going to work was hell as well for me) and he just said "I want you to know I think about how you are all the time." And, another tip is to talk about the person! I think people are afraid to mention them because we will cry. I wanted and needed to talk about how I missed Rick and I'm sure you feel the same way. I felt better knowing other people missed them too. Misery loves company so to speak. And don't ever be afraid to make them cry. The radio does that enough so having a person contribute is no big deal ... at least you can get a hug from a person.

  3. Thinking of you often, Lizzer.

  4. Liz,
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and Jack, and all of Neal’s friends and family. I am honored to count myself a friend and co-worker and feel truly blessed that I was able to attend that recent dinner at Anthony’s and meet you and see Neal again. I was the one who introduced myself as practically your neighbor (home on Marine Dr.), and Neal said “yeah but right now he’s banished to Juneau.”

    And there was perfect example of Neal’s quick wit and wry sense of humor. Along with a brilliant mind and penchant for deep thinking, wheels within wheels, those are Neal’s hallmarks that I remember.

    I am a poor housekeeper when it comes to cleaning out my email. But now I am glad because in that lacking I was able to retrieve some of the email exchanges with Neal and thereby preserved some of his very own words and thoughts. I’ll share a few snippets that I thought were good examples of what made Neal so uniquely Neal, loved and honored by his friends.

    Neal liked to add tag-lines, or quotable quotes to his email messages, to give people a parting shot of something to think about. Some of the tag-lines on his emails:

    “It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.”

    “Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you.”

    "The real problem is what to do with the problem-solvers after the problems are solved."

    But my favorite one is a line from The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy…

    “The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

    His sense of humor could not be outdone.

    One time I was asking for a particular class to be held in Seattle…
    “We're not planning on offering a course here in the foreseeable future. Sorry, Bill….
    Merry Christmas!”

    In another email a person made the mistake of suggesting that Neal was confused about some concept.
    “Neal, I think you're confusing Outputs and Outcomes….
    Neal: “No confusion at all, I'm all over the 'o' words.
    And Neal went on to explain why the confusion was in the other camp, not his.

    Neal was a goal oriented problem solver, but unlike so many task oriented people who are single-mindedly intent to drive out a solution, Neal had the wisdom to include other people in the process.

    “ I've opened a forum on the website called "Managing the Program". The idea I had was that we could open some topic threads on how to run the new system, thereby identifying problems and concerns and forming solutions. Our Portal is a way that we can communicate effectively and manage program knowledge. Even though, as Peter will attest, I'm severely impaired as a Facebook user, I'm going to expend some effort to stay current and active on our website place. I feel we need to get out ahead of this thing.
    What are your thoughts? Anyone? “

    In another reply to a good friend, Peter Stinson, about our up-coming re-organization. Peter starts with I don’t know anything official yet but ….”, and then proceeds to write several pages. Neal: “Excellent speculation, Peter! You had me at "I know nothing official.".

    In another email, Neal and I somehow got on the topic of eating seafood, maybe sushi. I said, “Well, I used to be a Marine Biologist and we would eat raw fish for breakfast.” Again Neal’s quick wit puts me in my place. His one line reply… “Well, I used to be an Oceanographer and we would eat marine biologists for breakfast.”

    I’ll end with an email post-script Neal sent out this last Summer where he was letting us know how he was doing, but his ultimate concern was for you, his family…
    “...and please include Liz and my 10 y.o. stepson Jack in your thoughts and prayers.”

    And so you have it Neal. The least we can do for you, for the years of having you bless our lives, is to keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers.

  5. Nice Bill...thanks from Me...I have about a hundred from him that I haven't deleted...I haven't gone through them yet mainly cause I didn't want to break down at work...Next week...maybe!

  6. Please, please share whatever emails you have...these are priceless! (I'm Liz's sister).


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