I had so many responses to my request for unhelpful things that people say and do in times of trials and loss that I decided to continue on the subject. There were several themes that emerged from the experiences people shared. I am endeavoring to examine those one at a time.
Many years ago my car was involved in a minor accident when I was hit from behind. I was never quite sure how it happened. When we exchanged insurance information, the woman, who had been following me for several miles, seemed to think my car had just beamed down in front of her, Star Trek style. My airbag deployed and in the process my glasses flew off. In the backseat were two passengers, my teen-age son, Scott, and a friend of his, Ron. I groped around for my glasses and checked on the boys.
“You guys all right back there?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Scott said.
There was a moment of silence and then Ron piped up. “Maybe this is God’s way of saying ‘Get a Porsche.’”
Don’t Speak for the Lord
I trust Thomas S. Monson as the Lord’s mouthpiece here on earth, and I put trust in the General Authoritities. The rest of you, I’m sorry to say, I don’t trust nearly so much. It isn’t that I don’t believe inspiration and revelation take place, but when someone dies, suddenly it is as if everyone has the inside track on God’s involvement and intentions.
Here are some of the most-used lines people shared with me:
God has something special he wants you to learn from this.
God needed him more than you did.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
God had a special work/mission for him or her to do on the other side.
It was his or her time.
While we say such things in an effort to give comfort, these comments fall woefully short in that area. One of the initial reactions people have to loss is anger. That anger can be directed at the loved one, for not taking better care of their health or for taking chances they should not have taken. It can be directed inward, in the form of guilt for not offering protection, failure to receive a warning prompting, or even for some unrelated action which set in motion a chain of events leading to disaster. Anger is also often directed upwards at God.
Admit it. You and I may have been a little ticked off at the Almighty at some time or another. When a steady stream of people file by telling you that God is the author of your crisis, not only does it not impart comfort, but quite possibly it fuels the anger you might already be directing heavenward. It can be difficult to turn for comfort to a God you have been told is the author of your pain.
We smile politely and hug and shake hands, because we know in our hearts that people are truly full of good intentions, but the silent track is running in our heads.
What was more important than her being my wife and a mother to our children?
I don’t want him in that better place. I want him here with me, struggling.
It is our nature to try and make sense of things. If we can tie things up in a nice little bow, we feel better. But that bow quickly comes unraveled for the person who has to deal with the loss, day in and day out, who struggles to understand that the God who gave her children can also take them away, who yearns for a heavenly understanding of an untimely passing or an explanation for the suffering experienced by someone they love. A loss that can take years for the bereaved to come to terms with seems to take about three seconds for everyone else. Resentment builds for those who speak without truly putting any thought into what they say, often parroting what they have heard said before.
In our quest to give meaning to the things that happen, we can come off as glib and all-knowing when we give a pat explanation.
When my youngest brother was killed in an accidental shooting, a woman told my mother, “Your son gave his life so my son could learn a lesson in gun safety.”
No. Take a hunter safety course. My son’s life counts for more than that.
When you are grieving, you realize that after a few days everyone goes back to their regular routine, while you are left trying to pick up the pieces. When we suggest all the reasons God’s hand is in the loss, whether or not it is true, it can add to the confusion people feel as they struggle to come to terms with their loss. Children can struggle to understand, putting their own meaning on things that are said.
“Mom, everyone keeps saying how happy Dad is now. Why is he happy to be away from
Stop yourself the next time you are tempted to explain God’s purposes, however celestial they may appear, or give any other reason why. You truly do not know the answers. No one expects you to know the reasons why things happen the way they do. Allow people to find their own answers in their own time. In the midst of their sorrow and seeking, revelations and comfort will come. Allow that process to take place naturally and privately.
Share a Memory
Many people suggested that sharing a memory of someone who dies is welcomed. It is valued even more if you put it in writing so that it can be shared over and over again. It affirms that a life was important and the family feels that their loved one was valued. It can’t be misunderstood. Pat explanations can have the opposite effect, making people feel that their pain is being dismissed and the life of their loved one diminished.
Allow them to talk about their loved one. Many people are uncomfortable around grief. It reminds them that it could happen to them. Often when someone wants to discuss their loved one, people change the subject or otherwise communicate their discomfort. People fear that their cherished family member will be forgotten. Years later people welcome someone saying “I remember your father. He was the best home teacher we ever had.”
The beauty of sharing a memory is that it is unique. Once you have heard, “She is in a better place,” for the 62nd time, well . . . you are about ready to send someone to that better place.