Is there anyone you’ll be missing this Christmas? I know so many who have “lost” loved ones this year. A spouse of 55 years. A 43-year-old father of two teenage girls. An 88-year-old amazing grandpa. A 22-year-old son killed on a motorcycle. A best man from a long ago wedding. A 9-year-old little girl tearfully taken off a respirator.
How can we offer sympathy in the face of such sorrow? Let me start with what not to do.
SIX THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO GRIEVERS:
- God must have needed him/her more than you do.
God is self-sufficient and needs nothing. He is not made greater, stronger or better by anyone or anything. Yes, He loves our loved ones even more than we do, but He does not take them Home out of His own necessity.
2. At least you have other children.
I remember when I miscarried our first baby at three months gestation on Mother’s Day of all days. A nurse came by my hospital room that night and commented: “You’re young—you’ll have other children.”
Her words did not comfort me. I didn’t want a “replacement” baby—I wanted the one I already loved. I needed to grieve the baby I would hold only in my heart and never in my arms.
And as devastating as a miscarriage can be, the death of a child is even more so. A parent burying a son or daughter is so unnatural, I believe this is the deepest grief to bear. And having other children still alive does not diminish the loss. The less said by onlookers, the better.
3. At least they lived a long life.
If this thought gives you comfort when your loved one passes, by all means say it to yourself, but it’s not a phrase to share with grievers. Simply because someone was 80, 90 or even 100 doesn’t mean it feels OK that they are no longer in this world. In fact, when a loved one has been in our life for a long time, it can feel really difficult not to see/call/take care of them each day.
My Mom passed away at the age of 82 after many health struggles and I mistakenly thought that because she had been in my life for six decades, I wouldn’t grieve as much. It has been eight years and I honestly still could cry every day.
4. You’re young—you’ll find someone else.
Even if this comes true, such a statement minimizes the special love relationship two people had. Those burying a spouse/life partner do not need to run out and find a new mate. They may indeed experience love again, but first need to grieve what they had and lost.
5. I know just how you feel.
I remember when someone said this to me shortly after my 86-year-old father passed away. I wanted to shout: “Really…your dad died a few hours before your mom got home from a 2-week hospital stay for cancer surgery complications? So the day that was supposed to be your parents’ happy reunion became the date your brother had to drive three hours and break the news to your Mom? And meanwhile you hurriedly drove seven hours in a vain attempt to say goodbye to your dad? Really…you had all that happen to you, too?”
Every grief has it’s own uniqueness, including how it affects those left behind. So while you may have an inkling, you do not know exactly how someone feels.
6. I thought you’d be over this by now.
People do not get over grief. They get through it. There is no universal timetable for grieving and grief work is not a linear progression. “Getting over it” is what we do when someone we’re dating breaks up with us, or we lose a job, or someone hurts our feelings. The idea of “getting over” our grief implies that we’re never going to miss that person or be sad again. It’s simply not true because when we love deeply, we grieve deeply.
In two weeks I’ll share “SIX THINGS ALWAYS TO SAY TO GRIEVERS.” In the meantime, here’s a prayer to lift to God for yourself or for those who mourn:
Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless.
Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
If you haven’t ever experienced a deep grief, I especially recommend listening to the song “I Will Not Say Goodbye” written by Danny Gokey, contemporary Christian artist–and former American Idol contestant– after the death of his 27-year-old wife.