Platitudes for those Left Behind

Submitted into Contest #193 in response to: Write a story containing the words “it’s the thought that counts.”... view prompt


Drama Sad Fiction

Trigger warning: Grief, death of a loved one. Profanity.

“It’s been sixteen hours and twenty-two days since I held her in my arms,” Sisely told her therapist.

           “Have you been able to cry?”

           Sisely shook her head no.

           “How about your sleep?”

           Sisely shrugged and quirked her mouth into a frown. “Maybe a couple of hours here and there. I will doze off and think I hear her crying,” she admitted, looking down at the hands folded in her lap. They didn’t look like the hands of a twenty-seven-year-old. “I feel like I’ve aged fifteen years in those twenty-two days.”

           “It’s possible you have. Grief takes a tremendous toll on the body as well as the mind. That’s why it’s important to work through the steps I gave you: Set up a consistent routine; Shower; Exercise; Eat something…And not shit. Have a carrot, make a smoothie with some spinach in it. No more swinging through McDonald’s at ten at night. Or pizza! No more pizza. That shit will age you without the other stuff you’re dealing with.”

           “Do you always swear at your patients, Doc?”

           “I speak to them like anyone who cares about them would. Does my cursing bother you?”

           “No. I kind of think it’s funny. Like you are scolding me as if I was your…daughter….” Sisely whispered the last word as if someone had just punched her in the solar plexus.

           “Saying that word gave you some difficulty. What emotions does it bring up?”

           “Anger!” Sisely shouted.

           “Anger is good,” the therapist smiled reassuringly.

           “That’s a first.”

           “Hearing that anger is good?”

           “Yes. Aren’t you supposed to tell me how my thoughts should be all positive and upbeat?”

           “Not under these circumstances. Anger is the second stage of the grief cycle. We talked about this last time. Remember?”

           Sisely rubbed the middle of her forehead and down between her eyes. “Not really. I’ve been having trouble remembering a lot of stuff lately. Stupid things, like where I set my coffee cup or my phone. Often times I find it right in front of me, which pisses me off. I want to pick up the thing and hurl it across the room!” She shouted, gritting her teeth as if performing the action in real time.

           “That’s perfectly understandable. Between sleep deprivation and the grief itself, you’re distracted. How about your social life? Have you been seeing any of your friends?”

           “Ugh. I’ve tried. But they just don’t get me anymore. Most of them have never lost a thing in their life besides their virginity and baby teeth!” Sisely snapped.

           Her therapist laughed. “I like this passive-aggressive you. That was funny.”

           “Well, it’s sad but true. They just fill the air with platitudes like, ‘Sending you thoughts and prayers,’ and ‘Everything happens for a reason!’ The worst is, 'It's all God's plan. Who are we to question.' Give me a fucking break with your bullshit.”

           “But Sisely, grief is hard on everyone. They’ve lost that vibrant, fun-loving friend in you while you traverse this. If they truly haven’t any experience with it, how do you expect them to know what to say or do? More than likely, they feel helpless.”

“They want to fix me,” Sisely growled, pulling at a loose thread on her shirt hem.

“Perhaps you could give them some hints on how best to support you. Or you could remind yourself, it’s the thought that counts.”

           “I hate that fucking phrase. Is it the thought that counts? Actions. That’s what counts for me. How about a goddamn hug or, I don’t know, an offer to go to the movies or something. The most hurtful thing is that the ones I thought were my ride-or-die have ghosted me. Oh, they made a show of it those first couple of days. But when I didn’t bounce back right away or want to go bar hopping and participate in their stupid, superficial activities, they simply stopped calling. Don’t they know that there is more to life than selfies and taking pictures of their food?! Life is too fucking short to be so self-absorbed.”

           “I think, when you are ready, you can forgive them. Their behavior is unintentional and absolutely natural in times like this. They are out of their depth, and instead of trying to ascertain and anticipate your needs, their coping mechanism is to move on to what is comfortable for them. Grief and loss are ugly and uncomfortable things. No one likes to be voluntarily put upon.”


           “It’s been six hours and fifty-three days,” Sisely sobbed.

           “I’m happy you are crying. I know that sounds cruel, but I was a bit worried that you hadn’t found that release yet. When did it start?” her therapist asked.

           “Two days ago. I walked into Starbucks to grab a coffee when I was hit with this smell. I still can put my finger on what it was. Not a perfume or cleaning product. It freaked me out so much that I ran out of the store, tripped over the curb, and skinned my knee. I sat on the sidewalk and started to cry. At first, it was just some involuntary tears. Before long, it turned to sobs and embarrassing wails. I’d never heard a keening sound like that from a human, let alone from my own body. A sweet older woman came and sat beside me, holding my hand in comfort without question. An employee brought out some water for us, and a nurse who was popping in before her shift stopped to ask if she could help. I was so grateful for the kindness of strangers. It’s like they knew why I was crying. I had no control over my body at that moment. It took an hour before I was calm enough to get in my car and leave. The woman, Janice, gave me her phone number. She wanted me to text her when I got home, so she wouldn’t worry. She told me she’d lost her soulmate, Al, ten years ago, and there were days she still felt like me. Then she laughed, hoping she didn’t set me back by sharing that. But she also wanted to show me that these things take time, and everyone is on their own schedule. We’re meeting next week for coffee at the same Starbucks. At first, I asked if we could go anywhere but there, but she encouraged me to wear my authenticity with pride. ‘Besides,’ she said, ‘everyone has had a shit three years with the pandemic and the fabric of society seeming to collapse. Anyone who remembers seeing you gets it and probably wishes they were strong enough to let loose in public like that! You’re a superhero!’”

           “Janice sounds lovely.”

           “Oh, she is. And she also hates that phrase, ‘It’s the thought that counts.’ Just an FYI. We agreed that it’s a saying that should be wiped from humanity’s memory.


           “It’s been twelve hours and eighty-one days.”

           “Sisely! You look…”

           “Like shit? I feel like it too.”

           “What’s going on?” her therapist handed her a box of tissues.

           “I want to die. I can’t…go…on,” Sisely rattled in short, gasping breaths. “I want to run away and never come back. I just want to melt into the void of existence.”

           “Please don’t hurt yourself. I am here. You are not alone. Talk to me. Tell me. What has triggered this feeling?”

           “I…I don’t know. I just am done hurting. I want this feeling…this emptiness, to go away. My heart physically hurts. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to move. It hurts to think.”

           “I am not trying to minimize your feelings but understand that this is temporary. Think about our last few sessions. You were going out and resuming some parts of your life. You wanted to live. Unless you’ve experienced another loss or some other trigger, that’s proof that this feeling is temporary.”

           “Or maybe those feelings were temporary. Maybe this visit is temporary. Isn’t all of life just temporary? Isn’t the fact that she died proof of that?!”

           “Yes. We are all just spiritual beings having a temporary human experience. Part of yours is to navigate through this difficult time. But more than that, you have so many exciting and joyous experiences waiting to be had!”

           “How do you know that?” Sisely gasped. “How can you possibly know that this is not my lot in life?!”

           “Because you are worthy. You deserve to be happy. You are the one here. Now. You’ve been given the gift of life, and you have plenty of it left to live. Let’s talk about Janice. Have you seen her recently?”

           “Stop trying to distract me.”

           “Okay. How about this. If you truly wanted to cease to live, why are you here? Naturally, this is a rhetorical question because we both know the answer. You are just in a dark place at the moment, and you know this is a judgment-free zone where you can come and find relief. Relief is what your brain is craving. Distraction is an excellent coping mechanism for relief. And if you don’t want to talk, we can just lie here on the floor and breathe. Come,” her therapist instructed. She moved about, setting some pillows on the floor and pulling out some blankets from a cupboard Sisely had never noticed.

           “What are you doing?” Sisely sniffled.

           “What does it look like? I’m building a fort! Come on! " Take this and wrap it around you,” the therapist handed her a blanket. “It’s pure luxury.”

           “It’s so heavy. What’s this thing made from? Lead?”

           “It’s a weighted blanket, and it’s fantastic. Here, put this on and lie down.” The therapist handed Sisely an eye mask that blocked any light from coming in. Soft music began playing as they settled on the floor. A disembodied voice instructed them how to position their bodies for optimal deep breathing.


           “It’s been three hours and one hundred and twenty days.”

           “You’re looking well today, Sisely. I like your choice of footwear.”

           “I couldn’t decide what to put on, so I chose one of each.”

           “I see that. Tell me how things are going.”

           “It’s not just shoes. I can’t decide on anything anymore. I spend evenings flipping through channels because I can’t pick a show to watch. In the morning, I’m at a loss as to what to have for breakfast, so I don’t eat. My friend Meg took me for lunch the other day, and I just sat there staring at the menu for like twenty minutes before she ordered me the Cobb salad. I hate bacon and hard-boiled eggs. I ate it anyway, though, because I was starving.”

           “It’s nice to hear that you are venturing out again after some of your setbacks.”

           “Meg dropped me off at the end of my driveway and peeled away. I think I won’t see her again for a while.”

           “I’m sure that’s not true. Remember, this is just as new and awkward for your friends. You have changed. They are trying to navigate that. It will take time.”

           “It’s the thought that counts, right Doc?”

           “I thought you hated that phrase.”

           “I do. I was trying to be funny.”

           “Snarky, more like. It’s under the anger category.”

           “So, I’m backsliding?”

           “Not necessarily. Anger can linger even when one has completed the stages. In fact, all the stages can show up from time to time. Speaking of showing up…have you talked to your boss about returning to work?”

           “Yeah. It wasn’t great. I’m worried I won’t be able to focus. Programming is very detail oriented. I don’t think I’ll be any good at it anymore. Maybe I should just go apply at Walmart. I could be one of those greeters!”

           “You’re being really hard on yourself. That’s okay. It’s part of the bargaining phase. Besides, I think you need to be able to smile to greet someone, don’t you?”

           “I suck at everything. Maybe I’ll take up basket weaving.”

           “You know, in the early 1900s, they used basket weaving as a therapy tool. So, you know, you could try it!”

           “Now, who’s being facetious. By the way, I don’t think I trust my boss to hold my job much longer.”

           “Did he say anything about it when you talked to him?”

           “It was more like what he didn’t say. I also think my neighbor is going through my mail. And I think my friend Lisa is talking behind my back.”

           “Trust is hard when you’ve been removed from everything you are familiar with. Have you actually seen your neighbor at your mailbox? Or heard from anyone about Lisa?”

           “No. It’s just a hunch on both accounts.”

           “Well, ask around. Or call Lisa yourself. Ask her if she’d like to visit. Get a feel for where she’s at. You are under no obligation to explain or defend yourself, but if she is talking about you behind your back, it might be because she doesn’t know what you’re thinking and feeling. As for the neighbor, could they be just checking up on you and making sure you are paying your electric bill and such? Try to assume positive intent until you know otherwise.”

           “Because it’s their thoughts and actions that count….” Sisely complained with a grimace.


           “It’s been nine months to the day.”



           “You didn’t mention the hours this time. Nor the exact number of days.”

           “It doesn’t matter anymore. She’s gone. I’m here now, doing the work. That’s what matters.”

           “Speaking of work. Have you gone back?”

           “No. I gave my notice. It was actually a huge relief, like a weighted blanket off my shoulders,” Sisely grinned. “By the way, I bought one. A blanket. Like the one you had me use that one time when I wasn’t in a good place? It helps me sleep. I’ve been getting about five hours a night now. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I definitely feel the difference in my emotions and physically when I get more solid rest. My body was so achy for the longest time. I got a massage the other day, and it was the first time in a year that I wasn’t told I felt like granite. So that tells you I wasn’t sleeping well even before…you know. Oh! Lisa. You know, the one I thought was talking behind my back? She is going to India on a spiritual retreat and asked me to come with her. She said she didn’t think our other friends would get it. She’s been pretty great since I reached out to her. So, thanks for that.”

           “You’re welcome. India sounds fascinating. I’ve always wanted to go and do a retreat there. Something about being in the land of Yogis and ancient philosophies sounds, well, divine. Are you thinking about going?”

           “I am. I need to figure out the finance piece since I’m not working. But a former colleague left our company too and their own startup specializing in Big Data. They think I could be great as a data scientist. I’d have to take some classes, but if I get the training, I could do what they need from just about anywhere.”

           “This is all great news and a positive sign. I’d say you are in the final stages. How does that make you feel?”

           “Well, the hole in my chest still aches no matter how much sleep I get. And I’m afraid sometimes.”

           “Afraid of what? Your own mortality?”

           “No. Of forgetting her.” Sisely’s eyes watered, and she grabbed a tissue. “I can’t remember her laugh. Or the way she brushed her teeth, our last conversation. It’s all fading. All I can remember is that day. The news alert on my phone. The sound of the sirens screaming through the streets. The gunshots. Her crying.” She closed her eyes, remembering.

           “This is the post-traumatic stress part we need to start working on as your grief ebbs.”

           “I put flowers on his grave yesterday.”


           “The shooters.”

           “Why did you do that?”

           “Because he needed help, and no one listened. He was alone in his pain and didn’t have a person like you to help him through his crisis. Don’t get me wrong, I hate him for taking her and all the other people from this world. He shouldn’t have done that. I don’t get why anyone would want to do that. Yet, maybe I do…He was alone, and he didn’t want to die alone. I want him to know that I understand where his head was at that day, to some degree.”

           “That’s very empathetic of you. Not many people feel that way or would do what you did.”

           “Well, it’s the thought that counts, right?”

April 12, 2023 01:53

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Helen A Smith
14:33 Apr 24, 2023

A great working through of grief in the dialogue between client and therapist. Everything seems superficial compared to the grief and loss the MC is experiencing. The twist at the end was impressive. Surely one of the hardest things to do - to be able to empathise with the loneliness of someone who has caused so much pain. Well written and moving piece on one of life’s hardest journeys. We can never really forget those we have lost, but over time the pain lessens and becomes more manageable.


KT George
14:53 Apr 29, 2023

Thank you, Helen. Grief is one of life's greatest lessons. We all know we'll have to go "through" it, but we never know how it will truly impact us. AND each loss is different from the next. I appreciate you reading and leaving a comment.


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Karen McDermott
14:39 Apr 15, 2023

Great work. Really enjoyed the repartee between patient and therapist, and the refrain of the prompt recurring in just the right places.


KT George
17:24 Apr 15, 2023

Thank you, Karen! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.


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Viga Boland
01:33 Apr 15, 2023

This is superb KT. I hope the right judge grabs this and shortlists it. Sometimes, it feels like a lottery on here i.e. the luck of the draw. I want the right judge to “draw” your story so you can get the credit you deserve. Of course, you know without my saying it, that your use of dialogue gives this story its shine. We see, hear and understand the MC and therapist’s innermost feelings because you let their words show them to us. Oh how I love writers who can do this. The story comes alive under the pen of someone like you. Please keep wr...


KT George
03:09 Apr 15, 2023

Corrected. Thank you for catching that! And thank you for your words of encouragement. I appreciate you.


Viga Boland
14:17 Apr 15, 2023

My pleasure always. And a big thanks to you for reading my latest, non-contest submission about the Banters. Keeping my fingers crossed for you this week. 🤞🤞


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Richard E. Gower
15:35 Apr 14, 2023

Terribly sad story. Great dialogue. Excellent craft. -:) RG


KT George
18:08 Apr 14, 2023

Thank you for reading and commenting, Richard.


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Jody S
15:26 Apr 14, 2023

So beautifully rendered and heart-wrenching and yet there are pops of humor that are fabulous like “Ugh. I’ve tried. But they just don’t get me anymore. Most of them have never lost a thing in their life besides their virginity and baby teeth!” Excellent use of the time factor starting each section. With all the crap in the news this is just so timely and spot on needing to be heard. The twist at the end with her putting flowers on the shooters grave, just tore my heart. WOW!! Looking forward to more of your works. Thank you for sharing...


KT George
18:08 Apr 14, 2023

Thank you, Jody! I really appreciate you taking the time to read and review. I have 14 other stories under my profile if you feel so inclined to peruse them.


Jody S
19:58 Apr 14, 2023

You are most welcome! I will have to check them out. I am just learning my way around the site!! Looking forward seeing more!


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Rita Kimak
14:17 Apr 14, 2023

Wow! KT, this is beautiful and so well written and so true!!! I lost my dad when I was seventeen to cancer and could relate to the feelings of losing my friends because they didn’t know how to act around me!! And now I’m 57 and just lost my 96 year old mother on March 23. I could still relate, if not more, to the journey of grief. The journey I’ve sadly just begun. Very good piece!!!


KT George
15:01 Apr 14, 2023

Thank you, Rita. I have also suffered shocking and profound losses over the years. Not exactly in this way, but I was able to channel some of my own experiences into my MC's to give it that authenticity. I feel for you and understand your pain. 💖 I appreciate you taking the time to read and review. ~ KTG


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Mary Bendickson
19:07 Apr 12, 2023

'We are all just spiritual beings having a temporary human experience.' What a story,KT. You say it is fiction but sadly the part about a shooter needlessly taking life is repeated over and over these days. No wonder your MC was taking it so hard. And shame on us that we can't tolerate someone going through the grieving process no matter how long it takes. So many layers here.


KT George
19:43 Apr 12, 2023

I hesitated to add such a polarizing topic to the story, yet I felt it needed to be done. During the time I started this, two mass shootings took place. Both shooters were individuals with or in a mental crisis. I know many don't know how to tackle this plight, but I think looking at our mental health is a good place to start. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.


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Laurel Hanson
16:32 Apr 15, 2023

Well done. This is thoughtful and real. "It's the thought that counts" can be an annoying phrase when used in a shallow way as just words. You work your way through to a really genuine and empathic exploration of the phrase. The unexpected conclusion is touching. OH, also, fantastic title.


KT George
17:26 Apr 15, 2023

Thank you, Laurel. I value your feedback. This one had a little bit of my soul in it.


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Josh Zyelinske
00:19 Apr 14, 2023

Good dialogue, it moves the story along nicely. I really like the character arc how she starts out a complete mess and gets to a point where she can understand some of the issues/feelings/mental turbulence that the shooter must have felt. It's a difficult topic and you did a superb job addressing it.


KT George
02:39 Apr 14, 2023

Thank you, Josh! I appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a comment. I was a little worried about covering such an emotionally charged and divisive topic, yet I also felt compelled to use some creative license in fiction to open a discussion.


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Lily Finch
01:45 Apr 13, 2023

KT, quite the take on the prompt with a shooter and his death by his hand only to find it's the thought that counts. Good job. LF6.


KT George
12:07 Apr 13, 2023

Thanks, LF6!


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