Top 5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving
After I lost my daughter Hope, I was surrounded by family and friends who took such good care of us. I was blown away by the love and thoughtfulness of our community, and I could never put into words what that meant to me. I kept every card, letter, message, etc. and I consider those things to be some of my most prized possessions. However, every now and then, I would receive a comment from someone that was meant to be comforting, but ended up hurting my already vulnerable soul. So, I wanted to write down the top five comments that were more cutting than caring; my hope is that as you read them, you will be better prepared to help someone in grief by avoiding these common slip-ups.
1. “One day, you will be able to help someone else who is going through the loss of a child” I was told this more times than I can count. I understand the sentiment behind it, but at the time, I wanted to scream, “I don’t care about helping someone else; I’m the one that’s hurting RIGHT NOW!” While it is true that I have been able to help other women who are walking through the loss of a child, there is no need to point that out when someone is grieving. They have no head space for thinking of others’ grief; all they can think of is their own overwhelming suffering. So please don’t say this as a comforting statement; it is not comforting, but rather feels like you are ignoring the pain of the person in front of you.
2. “Don’t let this steal your joy” I cannot express how much I hated hearing this. So many Christian friends would say this to me in the hopes that I wouldn’t become depressed or show too much sadness. But to be frank, Jesus is totally okay with sadness. He is not ashamed of my grief or sorrow; in fact, He weeps with me and welcomes my emotions. Being a Christian does not mean that we suppress our emotions or that we aren’t allowed to ever be sad. Read through the Psalms and it will become very clear that God allows and encourages you to feel deep emotions. So please, I beg my fellow Christians to erase this phrase from your vocabulary; it is extremely patronizing and hurtful to those who are grieving.
3. “Maybe it’s better this way because...” Here’s a tip: never, ever say that the death of a child is better than having the child on earth. I had someone tell me that “Maybe it’s better this way because you will be able to only focus on Matthias.” Nope. It would have been better if his sister had lived. I had someone tell me that “Maybe it’s better this way because she may have been sick or disabled and that would have been so hard on you.” Nope. Is this really how we view sickness and disabilities? Having a child who is alive, even if they have special needs or are medically fragile, is far better than having one who is dead. Period.
4. “All things work together for good” Theologically, this is 100% true. God does work everything together for good. However, the funeral of a child is not the time or the place to bring this up. Also, it’s very important to understand that while all things work together for good, not all things are good. The death of Hope was not and will never be good. God hates death, and He would never say that the death of someone was a good thing. He can use tragedies to bring about good, which He has in my case. But those things take time and perspective, and it’s cruel to use this verse immediately following the death of a child. Instead, acknowledge the utter agony that the person is going through. Tell them how much you care and that you love them. Tell them that God is with them in the valley of the shadow of death and He will never leave them or forsake them.
5. Nothing. One of the worst things you can say is nothing. When I would walk in a room full of people that knew what had happened to me and no one would acknowledge my loss, I felt confused, hurt, and forgotten. It felt like I had entered an alternate dimension. I know that people were afraid to say the wrong thing or afraid to make me sad, but ignoring my pain and ignoring my daughter was far worse. It made me feel like I had to pretend to be fine, to pretend like nothing had happened. But I quickly learned that I was not going to be able to pretend. Instead, I would bring her up in almost every conversation so that those around me knew that I wanted to talk about her. I would beg people to talk about her. If you have a loved one who has lost a child, please don’t be afraid to talk about the child. Most parents would be ecstatic to talk about the baby they adored and have lost. Personally, it feels like a gift whenever someone talks to me about Hope. I love it more than words can say. You can ask, “How are you doing? I’ve been thinking of you and praying for you.” Or you can say, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. How are you holding up? Can I bring you a meal or take you out for coffee?” Just say something. Even if you slip-up, it’s better than staying silent.
If you have said one of these things in the past, don’t beat yourself up. Ask forgiveness, learn from it, and do better going forward. If you have been hurt by what others have said to you, forgive them. Most people have good intentions and never mean to harm you. Next week, I’ll share my top five things to say to those who are grieving the loss of a child. I can’t wait to share those with you!