Monday, July 25, 2011

Grieving: What Not to Say

Sometimes people ask me what they can say to their widowed friends.

Let's start with the "what NOT to say" answer. I heard this in church a while back and my heart responded "So true! So true!"

In the story of the blind man in John 9:1-17 the Pharisees ask the wrong question: who sinned that this man was born blind--in other words--why did this happen?

Asking Why? or worse yet Who sinned? are the worst things you can say when people are suffering--whether that person is yourself or another. If you're going to ask this question--well, may as well just get out a whip. Same thing.

You know this is true. Sometimes there is no answer revealed to earthly eyes--as was Job's case. Just look at Job: God devotes an entire book proving how useless man's efforts are when trying to explain suffering.

Sometimes there is no answer worthy of suffering. Jesus died to save us, and that's enough death. His is the only death that brings comfort because in it he conquered death through his resurrection. That's the only time death made any sense or brought any comfort.

And then there are those who think our suffering is due to lack of faith. If we had "enough" faith we could move mountains. Tom got this pitch when Marilyn was dying of cancer. They could "overcome with enough faith." Ha! There are many things on earth that faith overcomes, but God's will is not one of them: we all have our appointed day.

So what can you say to someone who's suffering?

Unless you have the sort of relationship that has earned you the right to be heard, you don't need to say anything besides "I'm so sorry." Don't even tell them you'll pray for them--just pray for them--then you can tell them. One woman I met for the first time months later told me she had prayed for me every day since she heard Bruce died. I was amazed at her compassion and appreciated her gift to me of taking the time to pray for me. Try doing that for people you know who are suffering.
If you still need to say something beyond "I'm so sorry," say it with your hands and your feet. Put your money where your mouth is. Show that you care in practical and appropriate, need-meeting ways--pay their utility bills anonymously or buy them gift cards to the stores where they shop. Invite them to dinner, take them to a movie . . .
Real compassion = time + commitment

What would you tell someone who wanted to know what to say to someone who's grieving? I'd love to hear from you and I'll post your comments as soon as possible.


  1. A big one for me is,don't make promises you will not keep.As a widow,I have sat at home waiting for that phone call or visit I was promised,which never came.That hurts.Sometimes no words are better than empty ones.Just a hug will do many times.

  2. I would tell them to listen. And if there are no hold the silence between them as holy.


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