My sentiments (Meus Sentimentos): The power of vocabulary
My beloved grandmother Vovó Clara, passed away just three weeks ago. She was 91 years old, and was always elegant, poised, and full of social grace. Her love for us was fervent, strong, and inflexible. She loved all her grandchildren the same, she would always say. That was one of her many mottos.
The funeral rituals are somewhat different in Rio. Before the graveside service, there is a short moment, for lack of a better analogy, it is like a "cocktail hour". Without the food, but because it is Brazil, there is a Nespresso machine in the corner. We call it the chevra kadisha. In Judaism, the chevra kadisha is the community that prepares the body for burial. So for a few hours before driving the difficult road to the cemetery on the outskirts of town, we spent some time receiving those who loved my grandmother.
In addition, since hers and my grandfather's early married years seventy years ago, she belonged to a group of four couples, each with 2 children. They became a family. Two of the couples shared a floor on the same apartment building, so the apartments were always open. And there was her biological family, children, grandchildren, nephews, great nephews and nieces.
Every person that arrived came up to my mother, my uncle and his wife, my father, or one of the grandchildren and would say, "Meus sentimentos." In English, that means, pretty obviously, "my sentiments." That struck me as such a beautiful way to greet someone, and it showed me that we do not have a good phrase in English. "I'm sorry," doesn't quite hit the same note. It refers to the person that is speaking, "I" am sorry. Whereas "my sentiments" is more connected, it creates a relational bridge between the speaker and the mourner. "My sentiments" says that I care about you, and that your loss impacts me in my heart space.
It brought me back to the importance of language, how language is always defining and creating how we relate to each other. Language can create a more connected reality, or a more isolated reality. Of course this is at a subtle level, which happens to be exactly the level of emotion, of connectivity, and of love.