What to Say to Someone Grieving: 4 Vulnerable Considerations
At times knowing what to say to someone grieving can be extremely difficult, right? We want to fix their pain but we can’t. We want to say the right words but we’re unaware of what the right words are. If you want to know what to say to someone grieving here are 4 vulnerable things to consider.
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That said, I’m so honored that Bekah Bowman is sharing her story on this much-needed topic. This is a continuation of our Hope for Grief: A Grief and Loss Series. My prayer is that it speaks to your heart and spirit as much as it did mine.
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What to Say to Someone Grieving
We are all familiar with those sayings—the ones we say when circumstances are hard and deep grooves of grief exist. We pull them out to try and ease the pain. It is hard to come up with the right thing to say.
My husband and I journeyed through an unexpected diagnosis for not just one, but both of our children. April 7, 2015, and June 25, 2015, are two days that will forever burn in my mind. We refer to them as “D-day”, our diagnosis days.
On April 7, we walked into our son’s neurology office and learned (after an exhaustive search and terrifying symptoms that came out of nowhere) that our nearly 5-year-old son had CLN2 Batten Disease. It was genetic and fatal.
We tested our younger son and on June 25, we received a phone call confirming that he would follow in his brother’s footsteps. Days before his second birthday we had to absorb that he too had CLN2 Batten Disease.
We had never heard of this disease, but in the months that followed, we became the experts, often educating our medical teams on what was best for our boys. We followed potential clinical trials and advocated for their lives.
Our reality drastically shifted from a growing family to one who would lose both their children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old.
There were no answers, no treatments, no cures. The only thing certain was that this disease would take their lives.
Our son Titus went to be with Jesus just a year and a half later at six years old.
Ten days after Titus ran to Jesus, our younger son started a clinical trial to receive brain infusions every other week. Ely will turn 9 this summer and just completed his 143rd brain infusion.
While he has gone completely blind, has very limited expressive language skills, takes medications to ward off seizures, muscle spasms, and tightness, and to help him sleep, he is doing incredible.
The treatment from this clinical trial has been more successful than we had dared hope it would be. But CLN2 still exists in our home, and yeah, grief has made itself a regular guest here as well.
Anytime someone asks me about my family, I take a deep breath because I know I’m about to drop a bomb on the conversation.
It takes them off guard and people are often left scrambling inwardly to find something, anything they can say that will lessen the horror of what they’ve experienced.
I know because I’ve been there too. Even after navigating the loss of one child and fighting for the life of another, I still don’t have the right words to fix situations where such gut-wrenching grief exists.
But perhaps that’s because we’re going about it all wrong. That word fix is impossible for us to do. And those sentiments that everyone defaults to?
I didn’t become aware of how harmful they would be until I was on the receiving end of them.
Let’s go through a few of them.
(Loved one’s name) will be watching over you.
All through scripture, we are differentiated from the angels. In Hebrews 12:22-24, we see angels and humans differentiated as the author describes who will be present in the city of God.
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. Hebrews 12:22
You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. Hebrews 12:23
You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:24
I believe our desire to comfort others with this phrase is drawn out by the fact that our human souls are not meant to live in brokenness and death.
We feel the pain of separation and it’s so unnatural!
So, we use our limited imaginations to bring us as close to our loved ones as we can.
Perhaps instead, you can consider and dream with a wild imagination, a world of vivid colors, worshipful adventure, and perfection in the presence of God.
When people say my son has gained his wings, I cringe.
Jesus promised us a very different resurrected life, a life where our fullest created human self truly shines the image of God in which we were created.
We were created for this kind of life! When we know Jesus, we can be sure this is the life we have to look forward to.
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God must’ve needed (loved one’s name) in heaven with him.
Friends, take a moment and read that again. The truth is, God is fully God and fully complete. He lacks nothing, needs nothing, and is the fulfillment of everything. He does not need us.
Perhaps instead, you can simply say, “I’m so sorry. This is painful. I’m here.” (And then watch for ways to serve and step into those spaces.)
It is what it is
This is a commonly used phrase. It’s on decorative signs for the home, bumper stickers, and often expressed when it appears our efforts are futile.
But as I’ve journeyed a complicated life of rare disease, loss, and circumstances I can’t control, I’ve come to reject this phrase.
In my book Can’t Steal My Joy I share, “Throughout this journey, I have learned and continue to learn that what I see before me will never be the whole picture.
You Can’t Steal My Joy
May the term ‘It is what it is’ die a quick death. It never is what it is. God is always at work weaving together what we could not even imagine.”
Perhaps instead, we can put aside futility and replace it with great anticipation. Instead of “It is what it is”, we can ask, “What are you up to in this grief God, and how are you inviting us in?”
God won’t give you more than you can handle
We often live out this belief that we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and turn lemons into lemonade. This well-intended sentiment feeds a lie our Christian heritage has had a difficult time escaping.
We live out of this do-to-be place where we pull resolve out of ourselves and step up—pushing away pain—because otherwise, it’ll look like we can’t handle what we have been dealt.
We have to prove our worth. We tell ourselves, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, so buck up, you’ve got it in you to overcome this!”
I jokingly call this do-do land.
Here, we get stuck trying to prove we’ve got it together, or we put pressure on someone else to prove that they have it together.
On the contrary, God asks us to live from an awareness of our true identity. We live in this broken world but trust in our victorious God.
Because we are His, we can rest in our unchanging identity as His beloved and then step into our grief-filled storylines leaning on Him, knowing He provides for our needs because of the fullness of Him.
Perhaps instead, we can say to one another, “May the strength of God be with you, may the peace of God fill you, and may the joy of God be ever-present in all of your circumstances.”
Bekah is the Executive Director of a local CASA program, the author of Can’t Steal My Joy and a rare disease advocate. She loves to share the hope and goodness of Jesus in really dark, difficult places.
She’s a coach’s wife, and mom to two incredible joy-filled boys, one who is adventuring with Jesus. You can find her book and more of her work here: www.bekahbowman.com
These are words that bolster our faith in who we serve and who we are created to be. They capture our attention toward Him and away from ourselves as we fall into the proper place in this grand story. Let’s think carefully about our words and the truth they bring. Let’s get comfortable with the presence of pain. When we carry both these elements into grief-filled moments, our words can serve as a light pointing to our loving, hope-filled, good Savior.
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Resounding His Love does not provide medical advice. Please consult a physician if you suspect medical problems or need professional advice.