What Does “I’ll Be Thinking of You” Actually Mean?

When I was a kid, I remember funerals with cards in the mail, casseroles, prayers, flowers, and other very tangible examples of sympathy and condolences. And other perhaps odd but thoughtful gestures – a neighbor taking the car to fuel it up so that wasn’t a concern, someone minding the baby without being asked, lawns mowed, walks cleared, extra chairs appearing out of basements for visitors.

Those things were measurable and concrete.

I’m flummoxed by the term “I’ll be thinking of you” in regard to the death of my mother last week. What does that mean? How does it help me with the aftermath or the lingering grief? It certainly beats “She’s in a better place” as a platitude although in this case, I think the latter is actually true but most people have no reason to know that.

I’ve had an outpouring of condolences on Facebook, three on Twitter, and none on Instagram. I’ve received one card and a chicken potpie. About a dozen people donated to honor my mother’s memory. It is clear none of these people knew my mother because no one offered to have a mass said in her memory.

But do any of these people know me? I keep asking what they mean by “I’ll be thinking of you” and getting very few responses. How does your of me actually help me cope with grief? At least a prayer supposedly has a lasting effect. A “I wonder how Sue is doing?” not so much. I much prefer “I’m sorry for your loss” because that’s a concrete sentiment that connects us in the moment. A “I read your post and she sounds like a <insert phrase> woman” shows you read my post.

Are you thinking “Thank God I don’t have to go to the funeral” or “I hope she stops crying soon” or “Is it too soon to ask her to help trap my cat?”

In the course of the online grieving, I’ve been gay bashed and harassed about donation receipts. i’m sure that would happen in real life, too. None of my in-laws offered to attend even though I’ve been to three funerals for their beloved ones.

The truth is “I’ll be thinking of you” is a nothing phrase. It means they have no intention of minding the baby, filling up the car, or carrying chairs much less bringing the casserole or their memories of my mother. Thinking of me suggests action when it really means passive tense. It comforts us, not the other.

Perhaps when you’ve lost someone you’ll see what I mean. Think about the things you say to your hurting friends.




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