Just a brief post to help us consider the words we say when someone has experienced a loss. Romans 12:15 says “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I know people want to be comforting, yet sometimes the things we say can be anything but. Those who have experienced certain types of loss can share examples of heartless things said to them by people not meaning to be heartless, but who somehow failed to think about their words.
However, I want to focus on a more mild response that can nonetheless, at least sometimes, downgrade and minimize someone’s pain and loss. And that is…
Making generic statements, instead of taking the time to make a more personal statement.
“It is hard to lose a parent.”
“Pets are like family.”
“Everyone goes through this.”
♦Hmm. Think. Different people have different personalities. Some people bounce back easily, moving forward rather quickly, while others process things more deeply, taking longer to adapt, even struggling. Everyone does not go “through it” in the same way.
♦Our relationships are not all the same either. One person has an extremely close relationship with their mother or father, while another person’s relationship is more distant or superficial. Not everyone will find it equally hard, or hard in the same way.
♦I’ve observed people who claim to love their pet like family, but seem rather neglectful of the poor animal. Some experience a once-in-a-lifetime dog that they bond with in a unique way, unlike any other dog, even though they certainly cared for their other dogs too.
I hope you are getting my point? Not every person is the same. Not every relationship is the same. Not every situation is the same. Generic statements can downgrade or minimize the intense pain someone is experiencing. We are not letting them mourn. Or we could make them feel bad that they are not mourning “enough” or have bounced back too soon!
The individual may not consciously note that a statement to them was less-than-helpful, but they will notice that another person’s statement was somehow different: validating, comforting, reassuring. Someone gets it!
Acknowledge the uniqueness of someone’s situation. See them.
“I know you had a close relationship with your mother, and this will be an extra difficult time for you. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“I know you bond with animals very deeply, and I am thinking of you during this tough time. No other dog will ever replace dear Fido.”
And consider that when there is a death, and the relationship someone had with this person was difficult, even dysfunctional, that this can be a unique grief experience. The person may have a blend of grief and relief, sadness and freedom. Certain generic statements could make it worse for them. Perhaps instead, something like… “I know you had a challenging relationship with your dad. I’m here if you need a listening ear as you work through this.”
Of course, we don’t always know someone well enough to know these things. It may not be our place, or appropriate, for us to say certain personal things.
But we can avoid assuming things. There is a difference between a generic, yet caring, statement about a loss, and a generic statement that assumes things, potentially minimizing someone’s pain. If in doubt, keep it simple – a heartfelt “I am sorry.”
Well, this has been on my mind for a while. Perhaps it was helpful? Thanks for listening.