My family and I just recently suffered the loss of my dad. During the days following his death, we were comforted by all the kind words that were spoken in an effort to encourage us. But not everyone has the same experience. I’ve stood at the head of many caskets through the years and I’ve heard many comments made to grieving families that made me cringe. Like Job’s friends, they would have served as better comforters if they would have just remained silent.
This post is designed to simply offer some suggestions that may allow us to comfort the grieving, rather than adding unnecessary pain to their grief. Below are 7 things not to say to those who are grieving.
- I understand exactly how you feel. You cannot know that to be true. The fact that you may have suffered the same relational loss, doesn’t mean the depth of your loss is the same. Simply saying, “I’m sorry” is a lot more honest than, “I understand exactly how you feel.”
- It was God’s will. We should not affirm what we do not know. Some things in life happen by chance; at least that’s what Jesus said (Luke 10:31).
- God must have needed another angel in heaven. First of all, people don’t become angels when they die. Second, to suggest that God took this person from his children/parents/spouse because he needed him paints God with a rather selfish stroke and can lead to resentment. Why would God need this person more than his family needed him?
- Now, now, don’t cry. Why not? Why would we encourage a person to suppress their grief. Crying is not only a human response to grief, but it’s healthy.
- If you need anything, just let me know. This is really an empty statement that may salve our conscience, but does little to help a person. Rarely will a person volunteer a need to such a statement. A more useful statement would be, “What do you want me to do to help?” or “Would you rather have me do this or that for you?”
- At least you’re young and can have more children/or marry again. As insensitive as this sounds, I’ve heard it said to grieving parents on numerous occasions. We’re not talking about the loss of a family pet that can be replaced, but an irreplaceable member of the family.
- It’s better this way. Says who? To many survivors, the sacrifices they would be required to make would be well worth it if they could have their loved one back.
Please do your best to avoid these empty and potentially hurtful comments. If you struggle for words to say, then may I suggest the following.
- I’m sorry.
- I’m praying for you.
- I love you.
Your words aren’t going to “fix” anything, so don’t try. They should simply be spoken to express your love and concern. May we learn to comfort others the way that God comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).