by Angie Dailey
When my dad passed away, I was prepared for some things. His death was a gift in the end because he suffered so. I knew the moment Jesus took his hand. It was exhilarating. As a Christian, there were certain things I was equipped for in the days and weeks to follow. The newness of his absence was the one thing (and still is) that I cannot get my head around. The other thing?
The things people say! Let’s face it. What can you say?
There is no cure-all phrase when you speak with someone who has lost a loved one. There is not one thing that makes any sense whatsoever. But there are a few common things which come flying out of our mouths without our brain’s permission, and these are things we need to have some control over.
For instance, you’re in the store, minding your own business when out of nowhere (or the next aisle), there comes so and so whose brother died last month.
You pause for a moment too long, then the blurts begin:
“How are you doing?”
“Let me know if there is anything I can do”
“At least he didn’t suffer/isn’t suffering anymore”
“Do you need anything?”
“I understand what you are going through”
“We will (insert togetherness activity here) when you are ready”
“He looked peaceful”
Or you say nothing at all. Instead, you walk past and give a half-wave.
I know about these kinds of words. In the past, I’ve said each one. All I can say in my defense is, what was I thinking?
The things we say when we don’t know what to say can be pretty horrible, can’t they? We feel so helpless and we blurt to make ourselves feel less uncomfortable.
I hope I’m growing wiser. Instead of focusing on how to make my own discomfort disappear as I once did, I now try to approach a person who has experienced a loss with these words:
“I love you and I am sorry.”
Telling someone you love them is not natural for most of us. It is uncomfortable and awkward and the direct opposite of running away from their loss and grief. It makes us feel something real. It might make us deal with our own griefs, tucked away within us.
The words we say and don’t say are full of intention, good and bad. They can be a life source for those stuck in the cycle of grief which seems never-ending. But speaking simply, focusing on the other person instead of myself, has made a real difference in how I respond to others. I’m learning.
What are some helpful words or ideas you’ve found in responding to the losses of others? And what words from others have been especially annoying or hurtful to you when you’ve experienced a loss?
Angie Dailey spends most of her time with her husband, adult kiddos, and grandchildren. She is fascinated by every moment of their lives! She blogs at angiedailey.com.
A version of this post first appeared here. Cover photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash.
for me, a hug – I’m sorry and no words is best. nothing they are doing to say is going to make any difference, really, as you say.
Some days I feel the exact same way. 😉 Thank you for commenting.
This is a very good post. Our need to ease our own discomfort in these situations can lead people to say some bizarre things. A woman I know was recently commenting on how, when her father died less than a year after her mother, some people said to her how common it is that once one member of an elderly couple dies, the other often follows soon after because they just want to be with their spouse so they give up. Not only are those times actually pretty rare, but in this case the father died of a horrible cancer, not because he “gave up”!! — so she found this extremely insulting and presumptuous.
It seems to be that once we go through this experience of loss ourselves, we have a new and clearer perspective on what is really helpful (or not) to say. Simply expressing words of love and sympathy, as you say, is never the wrong thing. Thanks for writing this.
Your words are very sweet, and you are welcome. I have often struggled to find my own words since I have experienced this first hand.