Recently a friend was commenting that someone said something totally inappropriate to an individual who had recently suffered a loss. In this case it was a death and the remark was one of those ones that people say ALL the time but don’t really understand the impact of the words on the grieving individual. I have been guilty of it and I would hazard a guess that everyone reading this post has at one time or another made the same blunder.
I went to school to be a social worker. Not that I have ever worked in that field for money but I have to believe that I learned something from Dr. Kahil and Professor Brubaker all of those years ago at Ohio Northern University. Couple that with trainings and classes over the years including Stephen Ministry and I have picked up a thing or two about what to say and what not to say.
So today please consider my list of what not to say to someone who has suffered a loss.
God has a plan. Indeed God does have a plan but my belief in a loving God does not include the scenario that God wants his children to be in pain or suffer. It is the world that we live in. As I told my children time and time again—life is not fair. The sooner you figure that out the better you will be as well as learning to be more accepting of situations that are out of your control.
I know exactly what you are going through. No, no, no !!! A million times NO! No one can possibly know exactly what another person is going through because we are all so different and each situation, although there are similarities, is different for each individual. You can empathize, be compassionate and share that you have suffered hardships also but you can never know exactly what another person is experiencing unless you are that person.
God knew you could handle it so he gave you more. Once again, no. I do not believe that we have a God that looks on us and deems who can suffer the most, the longest, the best. Once again–we live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. Yes, you may find incredible strength when you endure a hardship but it is not really all about having things handed out to folks just because they can “handle” it well.
He/She is in a better place. This one is a tough one. Perhaps. But what about YOU? The one left behind to deal with the aftermath that inevitably comes with a loss or death or crisis of some kind? Perhaps the very best thing to do is to just say “I am so sorry for your loss.”
She/He lived a full life. Maybe so. Instead of saying something that somewhat diminishes that person how about asking what did you love the most about him/her? That way it opens up the conversation to sharing some wonderful stories and memories instead of focusing on the sadness and loss.
Call me if you need anything. I have said this one a billion times but you know what I really needed to do? Just show up. Chances are good that that person will never call you if they need something. The best thing is to just show up. Ask specifically if there is anything that you can do and then just do it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be as simple as going to the post office and getting stamps for thank you notes. When a friend lost her son unexpectedly I was able to take the SD card from her camera and get prints made for the memorial service display. It can be something simple like offering to walk the dog to staying at the house during visitation or service hours. People who have suffered a loss most definitely are not always clear headed and thinking about things so offer to do the everyday things that might indeed make a huge difference.
Time heals all wounds. Time may help diminish pain and sadness over the years but I guarantee that it does not heal completely. My dad passed away 20 years ago today and there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. Not a day that I don’t wish I could tell him that I am doing well and miss him more than words can say. If there is a magic bandaid that heals the wound of loss I would love to see it.
Try to look for the good in the situation. This one really gets me. Seriously? How can a person who is caught up in grief see any good at that moment? Don’t get me started on this one. Just don’t say it.
Try not to cry. This one is just plain dumb. Come on. It is totally okay to cry. It is a release. It is natural. It is part of the process and it can come at any time. Honestly as I was writing this post I got teary thinking about all of those who I have lost over the years to death and that is part of it. It is just a natural reaction . There is no time limit on grief. There is no schedule to follow. Everyone has to do it in their own way and if crying is part of it—-that is just what it is—a part of it.
At least he/she is no longer in pain. I think this one is so easy to say because in so many cases the person who has died has suffered and has been in pain. But when we say something like this it diminishes the person who is left because they ARE in pain. And will be. For quite awhile . While it may not be physical pain and suffering it is pain all the same and and needs to be recognized for what it is.
I have found that my go to is to simply say “I don’t know what to say. There are just no words right now but I want you to know that I am here for you.”. Does it make everything better? No. But at least it lets that person know that you want to be there in whatever way you can be without offering platitudes that just plain hurt.
If you have thoughts on this I would truly love to hear them. Please feel free to leave a comment. And as always, thank YOU for taking the time to read today.