When we encounter somebody who has experienced a misfortune, we are often at a loss for words. Simply saying “I can’t even imagine. So sorry for your loss,” seems grossly inadequate, and so we tend to ad lib. That’s when we get into trouble.

I have met many well intentioned people during the past year who when hearing my house burned down responded with bizarre utterances. One couple actually asked me whether I found the loss of my home cathartic. The answer was an emphatic, “NO!” There was nothing remotely cathartic about losing my home and everything in it. 

Catharsis is “an emotional discharge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal or achieve a state of liberation from anxiety and stress.” The loss of my home caused no spiritual renewal, but it sure did create a whole lot of stress.

It turns out the inquiring couple owned a home in Orange County which they had been unsuccessfully trying to sell for several years. For them the disappearance of their house might well have been cathartic, but for me, not in the slightest way.

Another person whom I recently met asked me whether there was anything good about losing my home? The answer to that question was also a resounding “NO!” or perhaps even better,  “HELL NO!” The fire actually burned some files which I had been wanting to get rid of, but I think a shredder would have been a far simpler alternative.

Many people tell me that my new home will be even better than the one I lost.  Please don’t say that.  I am sure the new house will be just fine, but I loved my home which is no more.  When I got divorced from my first wife after a five year marriage, I did not want to hear that someday I would meet the love of my life, my soulmate, the future mother of my two children, my companion for over 37 years.  At the time I didn’t want to hear anything remotely like that.

So occasionally if you do not know what to say, you can always fall back on “Sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine.” It might sound trite, but it does the trick.

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