Death: Who knows what to say? Emily Post? Shakespeare?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Death
Click the cover to visit the publisher's page for the book.

Click the cover to visit the publisher’s page for the book.

From Dr. Baker: Welcome back columnist Terry Gallagher.

Many people find themselves speechless on learning of the death of a friend or colleague, finding it very difficult to choose words that will comfort the grieving.

That’s one reason we have etiquette guides like Emily Post, offering pages of advice on how to write sensitive notes to survivors.

And our friend Stuart Matlins has helped thousands with his indispensable The Perfect Stranger’s Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People’s Religious Ceremonies.

But even on familiar turf, most of us have experienced the awkwardness and discomfort when a eulogist, overcome by emotion, loses composure and breaks down in tears.

Shakespeare got that experience right when he shows us how Macduff responds to news that his wife and children have been “savagely slaughtered” by Macbeth’s forces.

From the text, it’s clear that he’s been struck silent by the news.

“Give sorrow words,” his ally Malcolm eventually encourages him. “The grief that does not speak whispers the overwrought heart and bids it break.”

Even when our hearts would break, we need to find something to say, to “give sorrow words.”

How should we express grief?

What responses annoy you after a death?

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