In the world of grief, I’m still an apprentice. I think most people sincerely want to bring comfort to the grieving but just don’t know how. I had a conversation after yesterday’s post with someone who thinks I was being a bit too critical. Their position is that it’s the intent, not the words, that matter.
That’s caused me to rethink what I write tonight. Instead of being philosophical, I’m just going to list some things that were said to me that, however well intended, hurt more than helped. In italics, I’m including my reactions. I didn’t say any of these things. I didn’t say much at all. I’m not proud of everything I thought, but I wanted to honestly offer a glimpse of the inside of a hurting heart.
When I miscarried near the end of my second trimester:
• At least you already have a girl and a boy I love them more than life. How does that, or gender have anything to do with this baby
• This is just God’s way of taking care of His mistake God is taking care of HIS mistake, I don’t think so
• God needed another angel God doesn’t need anything and He certainly wouldn’t change His mind, halfway through
• It wasn’t a real person anyway Yes he was and I already was in love with him
• Remember, God is in control I never doubt that, although I have no idea what you mean when you say it
• You should have taken better care of yourself I didn’t even take an aspirin or drink a cup of coffee
• It’s been a month, you need to get over it Is there a secret grief time-table
• I had a miscarriage 20 years ago and it ruined my life Well, that was encouraging
• It was your fault: you shouldn’t have gone on vacation, played tennis etc… Believe me, I wonder every moment if I did something to cause this or could have done something to prevent it
I was 28, heart-broken and already an expert in guilt. I never brought the topic up, but I got to the point of cringing when someone new would approached me. Most people were very kind. There were many wonderful people who hugged me, or said how sorry they were or who reassured me of their love and prayers. But I’m highlighting these comments to try to illustrate that, yes, the words do matter.
Twenty years later, when my parents died 11 months a part, I was less vulnerable to the effects of other people’s opinions and remarks, but I was rather stunned by these comments; most said in the visitation line at the funeral home:
• I’ve never watched anyone die. What was it like? Are you really asking me to describe the 18 hr death rattle, or how it felt to watch them tie my father’s jaw shut? Or are you asking what it was like let go of my mother’s hand for the last time
• You had her for 50 years. You shouldn’t be sad. My Mom died when I was 23 Imagine how huge a hole 50 years leaves
• She’s an angel now Actually, angels and humans are different creations, you don’t die and turn into an angel
• Think of the example you’re setting for your children when you cry My ‘children’ are in their 20’s, they’re all grown up,and I promise, they’ve seen me cry before
• At least you won’t have to take care of them anymore Taking care of them was an honor, not a burden
• They’re looking down on you, watching everything you do OK, that is just creepy
• You need to… I quit listening as soon as you started giving me advice
• When my dog died, I didn’t think I would ever recover I quit listening as soon as you said dog
• I know just how you feel You have no idea how I feel
• Time is the great healer Time isn’t some mystical, magical thing Time alters grief, it doesn’t heal it
• You’re Mom and Dad wouldn’t want you to be sad My Mom and Dad would find my sorrow honoring, not embarrassing
• Every cloud has a silver lining In addition to being trite, I have no idea what that has to do with this moment
• I know what you’re going through, I… I quit listening when you started telling your story
• Your Mom wouldn’t want you to cry If you really believe that, you don’t know the first thing about my Mom
• This isn’t about you, it’s about them You couldn’t be more wrong. They’re gone, I’m here. This is absolutely about me
• They’re in a better place Of course they are. I’m not grieving for them, I’m grieving for me, here, without them
I believe it does matter what you say if you don’t want to hurt the hurting.
Don’t say: I know how you feel; Don’t use clichés and platitudes; Don’t try to help the grieving person gain perspective; Don’t minimize the pain; Don’t speak for God (He can speak for Himself); Don’t speak for dead people; Don’t blame the grieving person; Don’t decide how long or in what fashion they can grieve; Don’t use this as a teaching/preaching moment; Don’t try to fix it
Do say: I’m so sorry; I love you; I miss them, too; I have such special memories of when we… Give a hug; Send a card that just says ‘I’m grieving with you’; Send a gift certificate for pizza or carry out; Say a prayer
Today would have been my Mom and Dad’s 67th anniversary. I’d like to leave this topic with a song by Andrew Peterson. It’s only 3 minutes long. There is More.