What NOT to say to a grieving family

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When we see someone hurting, we all want to say something, anything, to make it better. But the truth is, you cannot make it better with your words. And some things can actually make a grieving parent feel worse. Only God can heal the brokenness felt by a parent who has buried their child.

If you do say one of these things, know that we will forgive you. We know you are trying to help and love us. We try to walk in grace and forgiveness. But if you can, take time think before you speak. And please try not say these things to a grieving mother or father.

I know what you’re going through.

Unless you have walked in their shoes, you cannot know all that another person is facing. You cannot know their fears, pain, and struggles.

Unless you have lost a child, you cannot know what a bereaved parent is going through. It sometimes feels as if you are minimizing my pain when you compare what I am going through with your own loss. The loss of a pet, friend, job, or parent does not compare to the loss of a child. Please don’t try to compare them. Instead, try saying, “I am sorry you are going through this.”

I understand.

Unless you have lost a child, you cannot possibly understand the pain of bereaved parents. Even if you have experienced a deep loss yourself, your loss was different than mine. Each of us is unique. Our children were unique. Their deaths were unique. And our grief is unique. A better thing to say might be, “I understand that you are hurting. I am sorry.”

How are you doing? Or How are you feeling?

Only ask this if you have the time to really listen. And please don’t try to get us to really tell you how we are unless we are close friends and we are in a private place. If we open up to tell you how we are really doing, it may get ugly. Grief can be ugly. Tears and snot and stuff. Honestly sharing how I am may not be easy for you or me. Please know that this road is hard. It is harder than you could ever imagine. We have good moments and bad moments. We will survive, but talking about the hard stuff is…well…hard. Maybe you could ask, “How is your week going” or “What do you have planned this weekend?”

God always picks his best flowers first.

Statements like this are theologically wrong at best; at worst, they are hurtful. You have just told a grieving momma that God “picked” her son to be killed by that truck or to die of that rare cancer because their child was such a good flower. This is not helpful.

I had a friend tell me just two months after The Accident, “You may not be ready to hear this, but God killed your son.” No, I was not ready to hear that. I don’t think I will ever be ready to hear that.

There is scriptural foundation to say that God chose and knew their child and that He controls the number of our days, but to tell a grieving parent that God picked their child to die is completely unhelpful to someone in the midst of grief. Again, try sticking with, “I am sorry you are going through this.”

God must have needed another angel in Heaven.

Angels are created beings, very different from humans who were formed in the image of God. http://www.openbible.info has a list of scripture passages on angels. Check it out. Or look at the concordance in your own Bible and look up passages on angels. None of them mention a human becoming an angel or angel becoming human. When a person dies, he or she is still a person, not an angel.

Plus, God does not need anything. He is God all by himself. He did not take my son because He needed an angel. If God needed another angel, he could have spoken a word and one would be created. He would not allow a child to die just so He could have another angel. Please don’t tell a grieving parent that God needed her child t become an angel so He took her baby.

Folks often refer to the five killed in The Accident as the “Texas Angels”. I am okay with this; all five were kind, beautiful young people. To call them angels is more of a reference to their character, not a theological statement about what they are now. Others talk of their child “earning their wings”. Again, not a true theological statement, but it is easier for some than saying, “my child died.”

She’s in a better place.

Yes, Heaven is a wonderful place. But knowing Heaven is wonderful does not make us hurt any less. Knowing truth does not take away the pain or sorrow. Platitudes do not fix our grief. We miss our son. We always will. Knowing he is in Heaven does not change that, even for parents who watched their child die from cancer or other horrible diseases. It might be better to validate our feelings and express your condolences. Again, try sticking with, “I am sorry you are going through this.”

At least you can have another child.

You do not know that. No one knows that. Only God knows if they can have more children.

A friend told me after a miscarriage, “When people say things like that, they have just brought up one of my worst fears: that I may not be able to have another child. It brings up my pain and fear.”

A better thing to say to a momma who has lost a baby is, “I am sorry for your pain. I am sorry you are going through this.”

Maybe you can have another baby.

Even if they do have more children, they will never replace the one that died. That child is special to them. He was loved and wanted. And this kind of statement diminishes his importance. Please acknowledge our loss and our pain. Acknowledge that this child was special to us and can never be replaced. Again, “I am sorry for your pain. I am sorry you are going through this.”

If you had just had more faith, this might not have happened, or your child might have been healed, or whatever.

There are many instances in the Bible of Jesus healing people who had great faith and of Jesus healing those who had no faith. And there are those who had great faith but still suffered. Jesus suffered. Paul Suffered. David Suffered. Moses suffered.

This statement feels like you are judging my faith, like you are saying it is my fault my child is dead. And that is very hurtful. Please do not ever say this to a family who has just buried a loved one. Sometimes it’s best to just say, “I am sorry for your pain. I am sorry you are going through this.”

God must be trying to teach you something.

The truth is that God is always teaching us. But saying this to a grieving parent is hurtful. This statement is saying that God killed my child to teach me something. Do you want to serve a god that would kill your child to teach you something? I don’t.

Yes, God will use this. I will grow and learn. God will use all things in my life for my good and His glory. But, sometimes it’s best to just say, “I am sorry for your pain. I am sorry you are going through this.”

God will never give you more than you can handle.

God often gives us more than we can handle. He does this so that we rely on Him. He promises to never leave us or forsake. He promises to always be with us. He promises to love us. But He never promises to give us only what we can handle. He will walk with grieving parents and He will help them through this horrible grief, but the death of child is absolutely more than any of us can handle without His help. Perhaps this would be better — “I am sorry you are going through this. I pray that God will give you comfort.”

You’re so strong. I could never be as strong as you.

To some, this implies that we are facing the death of our child because of our strength. As if, well… if we were not so strong then we would not be going through this. Like it is my fault for being so strong.

 

I have gained strength through Christ as I have walked this path. He has strengthened me through His Spirit in my inner being so that Christ can dwell in my heart through faith. And faith is the gift of God, it is not from ourselves.

If you had asked me a day before The Accident what would I do if my child was killed, I would have told you I would curl up in corner and die myself. But God gives us strength to walk the road He has set before us. Rather than put this on the parent, try saying, “I am sorry you are going through this.”

What should you say?

The morning after The Accident. our dear friend Jeff appeared at our door. He arrived within an hour of us learning of our son’s death and posting it on social media. That was the only way we knew to let Andrew’s friends know what happened. Jeff had clearly been crying. He came in, wrapped his arms around Ron and me and said, “There are no words. I am sorry. I love you.”

This is exactly what you should say to a grieving parent: “There are no words. I am sorry. I love you.”

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You may also find “What bereaved parents want you to know (but may not say)” helpful.


Read more from Kathleen by visiting her website at www.kathleenbduncan.com.

Check out books by Kathleen including “God’s Healing in Grief” an inductive Bible study from Precept Ministries.

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20 thoughts on “What NOT to say to a grieving family

  1. Pingback: What NOT to say to a grieving family | kathleenbduncan

  2. All of this is so true. I read your article “15 Things Bereaved Parents Want You to Know” through a link on Huffington Post and followed another link here. Wish that I would have had these articles to send to friends when I lost my daughter. I was one of those who withdrew from everyone and everything. And my friends didn’t have the persistence or the knowledge to see me through. All my current friends have been formed since. I still find it extremely hard to accept an “I’m sorry” from people when they learn of my loss. Maybe it’s pride, I don’t know for sure, but I don’t let people know of my loss in order to have people feel sorry for me, and sometimes people’s perfunctory, “I’m sorry” is so painful. Yes, time does put a bandage on the pain, but it is always there… and sometimes things hit unexpectedly and the anguish hits all over again. Thank you for taking the time to write all this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julie, I am sorry about your loss. It is hard to lose a child. I’m glad you found my blog. Take some time to look around. And be sure to read the comments. There are many wise folks who comment on my posts. I enjoy following theirs blogs to learn from them.

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  10. Wow wow wow, this is an incredibly informative and helpful piece. So many times I think people’s intentions are nothing but pure when they try to help you cope with a loss but they just end up saying something incredibly hurtful without realizing it. Unfortunately loss is inevitable and if more people had an understanding of how to approach this topic with others, that would be great. I hope a lot of people read this post and learn something. Thank you for sharing. Sam.

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  11. A family member at the funeral home said that to us when Mom died in the midst of our shock and grief, that her faith wasn’t strong enough. I can’t tell you wounding that was, particularly because my mother was a woman of great faith, and he implied that somehow her death was her own fault. I’ve never forgotten that moment. Another (young adult) said to me at the funeral dinner, “I know how you feel” as her mother stood right next to her. Her mom (my aunt) quickly told her, “Oh no you DON’T” and explained to her on the spot how inappropriate her comment was and that she could not possibly know my pain. I very much appreciated that, I didn’t know what to say to grieving people before my losses, so only ever said I couldn’t possibly know and offered my presence and hugs. After having been through repeated losses, I now know what things I can say in sincerity about having a clue how they might be feeling, and all the things not to say and I am careful to express my empathy and support while saying little, because at those times, sometimes words can do more harm than good and the wrong words can cause further unnecessary pain on top of what people are already trying to cope with.

    Liked by 1 person

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