29 May 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Every time someone experiences a tragedy, some dear old saint has to chime in and tell the grieving person that they just have to trust God’s will. It makes me want to scream. I know they mean well, but telling a person that God wanted this tragedy to strike is horribly insensitive at best. People have become atheists over this.
Satan has been maligning the character of God for over 2,000 years. Why do God’s people help him by spreading these lies?
Signed, Heartbroken and angry
This infuriates Aunt Sevvy also. Grieving people are not comforted by “God’s plan” or “God’s will.” How can we call it “God’s will” when, for example, children die? Did God kill them? It makes God look awfully cruel.
Aunt Sevvy believes that people say dumb things because in the face of an unspeakable tragedy they just don’t know what else to say. They fumble for something—anything—that might make them feel better about the horror of a sudden loss.
And here we’ve identified the problem: these platitudes aren’t meant for the grieving person, but to make the person saying them feel better.
We could talk about the flaws in this “God’s will” theology, but Aunty thinks it might be helpful to address here what you should do and say when friends are grieving.
- You don’t need to say anything. Just give your friend a hug.
- Spend time with the other person if they want you to—even if you only sit in silence.
- Learn how to listen—that is, holding eye contact, while reflecting carefully and sincerely what the other person says, without giving advice
- Add to that a casserole or a loaf of bread, or a mowed lawn or shoveled driveway—that is, real help. More ideas: provide meals, childcare, rides to medical appointments, pick up the children from school, buy groceries, help make funeral arrangements, etc.
- A bouquet of flowers for the funeral is nice, but remember: it’s often in the following weeks, after the funeral is past and the relatives have gone home, that everyone forgets about the grieving person and goes about their business; that’s when the grieving one begins to feel deeply alone.
Here are things you can say:
- When appropriate, you can share lovely memories of the person they’ve lost, and how much that person meant to you, too.
- “I’m praying for you.” Then really do it!
- “Is there something I can do to help?” Then really do it! (Better yet, there are kind things you can do without being asked!)
What not to say:
- “I know exactly how you feel.” You may have had your own experiences of grief, but no, you don’t know theirs.
- “When my [loved one] died, [this and this and this] is what happened to us.” It’s not about you, but about them! Why share your experiences, instead of listening to theirs?
- “Let me give you a Bible study about the state of the dead” or “Let me read you these passages about the resurrection and heaven.” They already know those texts.
- And please, never, ever say to someone who’s lost an infant, “You can always have another baby.”
In general, avoid platitudes that sound like they should bring quick comfort. There is no quick comfort for grief, so don’t even try. Center your attention on the grieving person, and not your own anxiety. (You’d be surprised at how often people feel anxious about the loss and so dump their anxiety on the grieving person!) Your task is to bear the other’s grief and provide comfort for them.
It is also worth mentioning that if someone is grieving because of a bad medical diagnosis, please don’t suggest vitamin supplements, special diets, or other alternative medical treatments. It makes them feel that they are responsible for their own health crisis because they have not followed some diet or health plan. It’s not helpful; let their doctor do that, if he or she must.
In short: avoid advice and platitudes, be kind, be comforting, be a good listener, and show only love and support.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.