Debra J. Hicks
Here's why some of the things people said after the loss of my son, Joshua, provided little comfort.
1. I know how you feel.
Even if your child died, you can't know how I feel, because every person and situation is unique. If you want to share how you felt when you experienced a loss, that's fine. But bite your tongue if you're ever tempted to compare two people's grief.
2. How are you doing?
Many people use this greeting out of habit and aren't prepared for an honest reply. A much better greeting is simply It's good to see you. If you truly are prepared to find out how a grieving person is feeling, try to use specific questions such as: What was the hardest thing you've had to face this week or Have you been able to have a good cry lately?
3. Look on the bright side. It could have been much worse.
Yes, it's true that others have had to face worse. And even though a bereaved person could probably find a dozen reasons to be thankful if hard-pressed, you needn't try to force them to be cheerful. Sadness is the normal, healthy response to the death of a loved one.
4. Call me if there's anything I can do to help.
Few grieving people will ask for help because they are usually too overwhelmed to assess and prioritize their needs. Friends should offer to do something specific and remember to get permission before taking action.
5. At least we know it was God's will.
While it's true that God allows bad things, this statement is insidious because it implies that He intentionally plans them in order to punish or teach us. It's not God but the enemy who deserves credit for evil and its completely irrational results.
6. Don't worry; you're young. You'll get on with your life.
A loved one who dies is not replaceable. Having another child can ease the pain of a secondary loss (such as the loss of an occupation, in my case, since I was a stay-at-home mom when my only child died). But parents will mourn the primary loss?a relationship with that child?for as long as they live.
7. Aren't you happy your child doesn't have to live in this sinful world anymore?
Although we have a blessed hope that the separation of death is only temporary, happiness won't be realized until the great reunion. If parents were meant to care only for heaven and nothing for this life, then the happiest parents would be those whose babies are stillborn, right?
8. Don't talk that way. You know better than that.
The ability to safely express doubts, questions, and anger is crucial in the healing process. It's perfectly natural for grieving persons to wonder why God didn't step in and overrule in their particular situation. Allow them to wrestle through this difficult issue and question the One who says in Isaiah 1:18, Come now, let us reason together. He can sooner help a person who expresses these feelings than one who buries them beneath a guise of unquestioning acceptance.
9. You must be really strong. I'd die if that happened to me.
What you perceive as calm strength is more likely the numbness of shock. You may be surprised how many grief-stricken people pray for God to let them die, too. Death would be a welcome relief, and many have briefly considered suicide. The last thing they need is for someone to imply that they are disloyal for trying to make the best of the life they have.
10. You should be over this by now.
Grieving for a child is a lifelong process, not a weeklong event. The only way to get over it would be to forget that child an unhealthy alternative to grief known as denial. Life will eventually seem worth living again, but it will never be as it once was. Too much has changed