In 1987, my wife and I lost our daughter Michelle when she was only one week old. This post, based on our experiences and those of others, reflects on the less-than-helpful things people do to comfort the grieving.
- Don’t say, “I know how you must feel.” You don’t know—even if you have gone through a similar loss. Every person’s experience of grief is unique.
- Don’t avoid the person. Don’t withdraw from or avoid bereaved people. They’ve already lost a loved one. They don’t need to feel even more isolated.
- Don’t be afraid of tears. Sometimes we avoid people in grief because we’re afraid that they will cry, or that we will cry, or both! Tears are cathartic. Don’t be afraid of them.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Another reason we sometimes unintentionally say hurtful things is that we feel the need to say something. It’s okay to just sit quietly with your friend. In fact, it’s often better that way.
- Don’t quote scripture at them. The scriptures can be a great source of comfort, but only when the bereaved person is ready to hear them. Give the person time to get past the raw emotion before you quote Bible verses, especially Romans 8:28.
- Don’t offer theological observations. When a person has suffered a loss, it is not the time to offer reflections on what God might be doing through the tragedy. Enough said.
- Don’t say, “If there is anything I can do, just let me know.” This comes across as hollow. Instead say, “What can I do to help?”
- Don’t offer trite sayings. Don’t say things like: “God needed another angel.” or “God picks the best flowers from the garden first.” It makes things worse. Much worse.
- Don’t speculate. This is usually done in the context of a larger tragedy. For example, after 9/11 some Christian leaders said that the attack was God’s judgment on America. Unless you are privy to the mind of God, don’t say things like this.
- Never say, “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” Truth is, you never get “over” a tragedy. You just learn to live with it. There is no recommended timetable for grieving, and telling people to “move on” only adds to their pain.
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