Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Not to Say to Grieving People

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 disciples ask the wrong question: who sinned that this man was born blind? In other words they asked 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, you may as well just get out a whip. Same thing.

God hasn't revealed the "why" to suffering except that we live in a fallen world.
You know this is true. Just look at the book of Job: God devoted an entire book proving how useless man's efforts are when trying to explain suffering.

There is no answer worthy of suffering except that Jesus died to save us. His death is the only death that can bring comfort. Through Christ's death on the cross He conquered death through his resurrection, and offers eternal life to us through faith. 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. My husband Tom got this pitch when his wife Marilyn was dying of cancer. They could "overcome with enough faith." Ha! There are many things on earth that faith overcomes, but what God allows is not one of them: we all have our appointed day.

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

Platitudes and cliches will sting when grief is raw. Unless you have the sort of relationship that has earned you the right to be heard, you don't need to say anything. Just be there. Weep with those who weep. Don't even tell them you'll pray for them. Just pray for them--later on you can tell them you are still praying. One woman I met for the first time months after Bruce's funeral 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.

The best way to say you care is with your deeds and help and friendship. 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. Phone them. Invite them to dinner, take them to a movie. . . Don't ignore your widowed friends or act like it never happened.  

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. Don't tellthem you will walk through this with them and that they won't do this grief journey alone and then abandon them right after the burial. I would have liked just having someone to sit quietly and cry with me. No one called to just ask how I was doing or if there was anything I needed help with. Those two things are huge.

  2. Two things, one spiritual and one practical:
    When I told someone I couldn't/didn't know what to pray because I was in so much pain they said, "We are here and we are praying in your stead. The Holy Spirit is with you and knows your heart."

    Practical: instead of just dropping off dinner, friends said, "We'll bring everything and have a cookout." They brought all the food, charcoal, everything, and cooked the food and corn and then sat down and had dinner with me. Nice to have conversation and dinner instead of the usual casserole drop-off.

  3. my experience is that widows are regarded as lepers. after my husband passed away everyone disappeared, including my own family but for one member who lives far away yet thinks enough of me to call every so often. as my husband lay dying my father did ask me, "how do you get yourself into these messes?" ...i guess that is a form of "why"...

  4. widowhood is one of the most vunerable periods in a
    person's life. Unsolicited advice is seldom appreciated or welcomed.

    I received on two different occasions family members from out of state calling and said "oh well you're strong, you'll be fine.

    A couple months ago I was in a resturant with a family member and the tears just came on, and the family member said "it's time to get on with it" I sensed in my heart I embarassed them by crying in public and I was a bit angered when they said this to me and even the tone in which they said it and quickly in response I said " I'm sorry if my tears embarassed you, but I don't feel ashamed because I cried"

    I've even had people tell me "you're young, God has a plan and he may even bring you another husband"
    (not good comforting words)for a fresh widow.

    another quote was "get busy and it will make things better" busyness is healthy but not the answer.

    And.........this is the king of all quotes and it came from a Pastor

    "tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all, my goodness you had him for 33 years"

    Job had comforters such as the above, so Job just decided to render his cause and case up to God and seek comfort from him. Job told his judgemental friends they were miserable comforters.

    There was never a truer cliche as "laugh and the whole world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone"

    Ferree -
    I like to say 1000 X's over thank you for this blog, it is truly healing therapy for one to be able to express the emotional pain of the inward and outward struggles.
    I believe that an intellectual approach and human reasoning will never soothe or heal a wounded spirit and a broken heart.

    There must be TLC for the journey or we forever get stuck, and it is such a blessing of being able to express our struggles while on this journey. We grow and we learn from others.


  5. Our healing will come only if we not nurse
    our wounds and forgive those who have
    said un-necessary comments and cliches.
    Those empty cliches only add salt to an
    already open wound. Only God is the
    cure giver. Our hopes and expectation
    must come from him.

    If someone I know was in
    much grief one thing I would do is buy her a little
    gift basket with some bubblebath ,
    herb tea, showergel and just slip a
    little card in there with my phone number
    on it. Also you could knock on the door
    and just say hi, and give a hug, no questions
    asked. In hugs one size fits all.

  6. The sweetest statement to me was . . . "You miss him, don't you. I do too! Talk, talk, talk about him, he is still apart of our hearts. Another person went through her Bible and wrote down verses for me so when I was up to reading them, I could -- no pressure, nothing that made me feel that I had to rush the process. Admit that there is nothing you can say that would make me feel better. Just sit with me, be quiet and listen. If you say you are going to be there for the children, BE THERE for the children.

    Don't say, "Are you better now?" or "Is everything back to normal?" or "I'm sorry about your loss, I can't wait to see what you learn from this." or "Sorry about your loss, but life goes on" (two weeks after the loss or ever) or "Do you think you'll get married again?" or "My animal died, I know how you feel."

    If I cry, it doesn't mean I am always sad and if I laugh, it doesn't mean I am "over" it. I am going to get angry at God at times -- it doesn't mean I have lost my faith in Him. Don't try to fix IT, you can't!

    Don't rush my grief!


  7. Great comments, and I thank you all. I'm sorry they come from depths of sorrow, I know you've paid a high price. Someday, maybe I'll compile all these, although there are a few lists out there already. It'd be good to hear too about other helpful things to do for widows, and I'm glad for the good ideas. Thanks everybody!


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