Hayley’s mom passed this past Saturday and we’ve had an amazing outpouring of care and condolences offered to us. My mom passed last year and my father has been gone over ten years, but since they lived in Oregon, I didn’t experience firsthand what we’re both experiencing now. I thought this post might be helpful for anyone dealing with grief but especially offering condolences. Important note: if you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of this list, there’s grace for you too; I’m sure it was well-intentioned and filled with love and care. Thanks for being open to changing the way you help people grieve by injecting more grace.
First, what not to say:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“She’s in a better place.”
“You need to take your mind off things.”
The first two statements may be true and the third might be good advice in some instances, but it is not grace-filled to preempt or “fix” grief by pointing out silver linings. There is a time to utter these phrases; only after the grief-striken utter them so you’re parroting and agreeing with them.
One more phrase to avoid:
“I know how you feel.”
It feels empathetic to say this but it’s actually quite dangerous and potentially graceless. Yes, you might have lost a similar family member in a similar circumstance, but no one really knows how someone else feels when losing a loved one because know one knows the emotional history of that relationship except the individual. And, often times, saying “I know how you feel” is like Kanye West grabbing the microphone out of Taylor Swift’s hands and taking over the focus and conversation. You had your grief, let your friend have theirs.
Never try and fix grief.
Grief is not something to be fixed, it’s something that must be shouldered. Like a marathoner, whether in the first mile or the last tenth of a mile of the 26.2 to run, it’s the grieving’s race to run. You can offer water, encouragement, even run alongside them, but do not ask them to stop the race and do not assume you can run the race for them. Be there while they’re shouldering the burden of a race they did not want and they did not choose. And here’s the thing about this marathon of grief:
It doesn’t end.
The burden just gets lighter. You carry it until you die.
Because if you stop grieving completely, you stop loving.
I know some may take issue with that last statement, but I believe it to be 100% true. You may think of a loved one less and less as time moves on, but if you don’t have a twinge of regret or loneliness or vacuum, the person is probably more of an acquaintance than a loved one.
Conversely, here are some grace-filled statements and questions for the grieving:
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Would you like some company?”
“Tell me about your loved one.”
The first is an acknowledgement of a person’s grief without any attempt to fix it or take it over.
The second is one of coming alongside for community and empathy, not of “getting things done.”
The third is one of narrative, of letting the grieved talk and pay tribute, honor, or even describe the mess of a person that they lost. Avoid “I know how you feel” in the midst of the narrative.
One last phrase to use with caution: “Is there anything I can do?” Yes, the grieving will most likely need help, but don’t take over. Don’t become the “to-do-girl” when your friend may just need a shoulder. Not a shoulder to bear the burden of grief, but simply a shoulder to bear the weight of their tears.
Because there is grace in grief.
God is good because he does not command us to suck it up and put on our big boy pants when we experience the death of a loved one. God actually grieves with us! Jesus was seen grieving alongside others that experienced loss through death. Be a little Christ by walking with those who are grieving.
To a laboring marathoner, there’s great grace and comfort in a cup of water or someone running alongside even for a tenth of mile.
Don’t disqualify the grieved from a race that love says we must run.