Grief – What Not To Say

comforting_handOriginal request (received 9/16/14): I know you’ve written on grieving before, but what do you think about “Christian platitudes” concerning grieving a loved one’s passing, specifically “They wouldn’t want you to cry” or “They’re in a better place now.” This has happened to me in the past, and then again to someone close to me who is grieving a loved one recently.

What I first want to say to you, dear requester, is that I’m sorry The Christian Platitude has happened to you.  Whether in response to grief, hardship or even joy (I’m all for rejoicing with those who rejoice, but let’s actually do it rather than merely declare it), The Christian Platitude is, at least in my opinion, generally experienced as a brush off and no one likes or deserves that kind of treatment, especially not by those who claim to follow the way of Love.

That perhaps harsh introduction probably gives you a window into what I think about Christian platitudes.  I actually thought about writing an entire post about the idea that “they’re in a better place now” when I was doing my phrases series but I’ll suffice it to say this: technically, Christians believe this to be true, but to me, it subtlely reinforces the idea that this place, the only one we can know and access, isn’t all that great or worth taking care of.  Too many of us think this and act like we think it and anyway, even if “they are in a better place,” *we* – those left behind – are, by definition, not.  My point is that it’s just not a helpful thing to say.

Likewise, “they wouldn’t want you to cry” is not only unhelpful, but actually rather mean.  Death is a really sad thing, losing a loved one for the rest of this life is very, very hard and it’s completely okay to cry about it regardless of what they “want.”  But isn’t it a bit presumptuous to assume that you would know what “they” want?  Yes, we want to honor those who have passed on but that shouldn’t mean that we forget what we, those left behind, need.  Saying “they wouldn’t want you to cry” can, albeit unintentionally, send the message, “*I* [the person talking] don’t want you to cry because it makes me uncomfortable, because I can’t fix it, etc.”  If you think your loved one wouldn’t want you to cry, it’s probably because you believe they care about you and wouldn’t want you to be sad.  But if that’s true, then they would want what’s best for you and in grief, what’s best is lots of room – to be sad, to cry, to laugh, to be silent, etc.

So, if Christian-sounding platitudes don’t help, what does?  Sometimes, after reassuring the grieving person of your support, the best thing is silence.  Chances are, the one experiencing loss knows you can’t fix it anyway and simply needs to be right where they are.  Knowing they’re not alone in that place can really help.  One of the best explanations of proper behavior when someone you knowing is grieving (or generally going through a hard time) is this Comfort In/Dump Out diagram the LA Times published in April of last year.  I highly recommend it.  I also highly recommend avoiding Christian platitudes in general; the Lord may be the great Shepherd, but until His return, we still walk through the valley of the shadow of death. 🙂

Let us be there for one another, allowing each the space and time to find the Lord’s healing even as we continue to walk with the grieving.  Empty tombs may mean resurrection, but no one can force an easter.

4 thoughts on “Grief – What Not To Say”

  1. “What I first want to say to you, dear requester, is that I’m sorry The Christian Platitude has happened to you.” Yes! We all need to hear that apology. Thanks Megan!

  2. “What I first want to say to you, dear requester, is that I’m sorry The Christian Platitude has happened to you.” Yes! We all need to hear that apology. Thanks Megan!

  3. Someone I interviewed for my podcast (an episode that asked, “What does it mean to be grounded?”) explained compassion like this: com=with AND passion=presence. In other words “compassion” just means “I’m with you. I’m with you.” Nice article. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to console anyone with the idea of a “better place”, but I’m certain I’ve made some classic mistakes, well-intended though I may have been. Articles like this are nice because they help us see from another perspective and even make some adjustments accordingly. Thanks!

  4. Someone I interviewed for my podcast (an episode that asked, “What does it mean to be grounded?”) explained compassion like this: com=with AND passion=presence. In other words “compassion” just means “I’m with you. I’m with you.” Nice article. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to console anyone with the idea of a “better place”, but I’m certain I’ve made some classic mistakes, well-intended though I may have been. Articles like this are nice because they help us see from another perspective and even make some adjustments accordingly. Thanks!

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