When It Sucks to be Us

I survey the racks on the left side of the grocery store aisle: a jumble of pink, red, and glitter.  The various dividers point me to cards for spouses, for sweethearts, and for spouses who are still sweethearts; for family, for friends, and for family who are also friends; for progenitors, for offspring, and for their offspring. This makes perfect sense: It’s late January, after all, well into the Valentine’s Day marketing season.

But I’m not looking for a Valentine’s Day card, so I survey the racks on the right side of the grocery store aisle: a jumble of bright primary colours, cute or wacky photographs, and cartoonish drawings.  The dividers highlight cards for him and for her; for blood relatives and for in-laws; for the old, for the young, and for those who think they’re young-at-heart; for the religious and for the secular; for the sentimental and for the flippant; for Anglophones and for Hispanophones.  This makes sense, too: Birthdays, after all, are always in season.

But I’m not looking for a birthday card either, so I scan the racks a little more closely. Ah, here it is, finally: a divider labelled “Sympathy.”

Right at the end of the aisle.

Right at the bottom of the shelf.

Amid the abundance of diversity of Valentine’s Day and birthday cards, I bend down to pluck out the one card on offer. Pasted on its front, a small cloud made of light-grey felt sports a frowny face. Sorta like this, albeit better executed.


Good grief. It’s clear that this is not what I want to express my condolences on a bereavement, but my curiosity gets the better of me. With this exterior, what can the interior message of sympathy possibly be?

Sorry it sucks to be you right now.

I recoil. Truly, I almost fall over.

I stand there, card in hand, wondering what occasion might prompt me to send a sympathy card and that might also call for this card. Bereavement? A terminal diagnosis? A difficult-to-live-with diagnosis? An unrecoverable setback in any activity important to the recipient? Any actual loss causing acute, ongoing pain? Not so much.

No, this is a card for life’s little trials: a trip missed, a bout of gastroenteritis, a trip missed because of a bout of gastroenteritis. Me, I don’t send sympathy cards for these occasions: I mean, I wouldn’t get anything else done. After all, we all have lots of moments when it sucks to be us.

As I head out the store en route to a full-service card shop, I wonder idly whether this is a marketing ploy, aimed at adding minor irritants to the list of standard card-sending occasions.

Heard you got the wrong coffee order /
pulled an extra night shift /
stubbed your toe.

Sorry it sucks to be you right now.

Not a conspiracy theorist, I’d almost rather buy into the big-bad-business notion than think that we’re so entitled that we’ve lost our ability to distinguish between a temporary pain in the butt and an enduring heartache.

Now that would suck.


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13 Responses to When It Sucks to be Us

  1. Tom Watson says:

    As you know, there are painful issues within my family just now. Things actually do – to use the current vernacular – suck. I wouldn’t mind a close friend sending me that card with that message on the interior. I am, however, turned completely off by the grey cloud and the word “crap” on the exterior.

    Seems as though all things become more and more crude as time goes on.

    By the way, I dislike most of the sappy cards that come around. They generally don’t indicate much empathy for one’s circumstances…just spout a sappy message and move on.


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yes. I, too, can imagine receiving such a card in the context of just the right relationship and just the right circumstances. It would be the equivalent of hearing “I’m thinking about you” combined with a surprise that might make me laugh – a welcome diversion. In this case, of course, I was tuned to a bereavement situation, so the card was a slap in the face.

      • Speaking of diversions, I remember an anecdote featuring, I think, Noel Coward. He was pounced upon by an acquaintance who went on and on about all her problems. Coward listened attentively, then said, with a comforting smile, “…and you’re not getting any younger.”

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Attending the Phoenix Open one day this week, I sat on the grass beside my men similarly afflicted in age. One worked hard to get up, muttering a bit. I said, “Hey – it’s easier today than it will be a year from now.”

  2. Tom Watson says:


  3. Jim Taylor says:

    I agree with you and Tom that this particular card sucks. But, like Tom, I’m equally offended by the saccharine-sweet images of primroses and peonies and the treacly messages that all will soon be well again. No it won’t — not when you’ve lost a child, a spouse, the older sister who held the family together for the last 50 years….
    Jim T

    • Here’s why so many cards are blank inside — they can’t think of what to say either. The word “love” is always useful. And what would YOU like to read?

      • Jim Taylor says:

        In our difficult times, it was enough to know that others were thinking of us. There’s no way that someone else can say that they know what we’re going through, although there’s certainly a bond if they have gone through something similar. But in most cases, knowing that they took the trouble to sign their name was enough.
        Jim T

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – I know your response is to Jim, but I remember reading Rabbi Kushner’s book (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People) in which he said (more or less), just say, “I’m sorry” and then shut up and listen.

        • The kindest thing to say to a person who has lost a loved one is, “Tell me about her/him.” Have you noticed that when someone dies, his or her name is not brought up, thinking that is a kindness, to not remind the one left behind. Is it?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yes, I agree with that, too. Too many sympathy cards assume something (about the feelings of the bereaved person, or the relationship they had with the deceased, or about their faith) or go all sickly sweet. Just saying “I’m sorry” is usually enough.

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