While it’s true that no words are adequate for someone who has lost the love of his life, here are some phrases you want to avoid.
My wife passed away suddenly and in an attempt to comfort me, many people said things which were interesting to say the least. I wanted to tell you what people said and my thoughts in the hope that it may help you. If you have had a loss you may understand it better. If you know someone who has had a loss for god sake man, don’t say this kind of stuff.
“His/her spirit is with you.” I had many people in the first few months who told me “I am sure you can feel her spirit is with you.” I’m truthful in saying this—I couldn’t feel her there—but I did not tell them that. I just gave some polite response. I can’t say that some people can’t feel the spirit of the dearly departed is with them, it just wasn’t true for me. So when people said that, it made me feel a little uncomfortable and awkward because I didn’t feel her spirit. Was something wrong with me? Was I out of touch? For me it was misinformation that I found confusing and somewhat disturbing. I think it’s because the other person is again assuming what I feel or don’t feel.
“God needed another angel.” This is not an article about religion or theology, but I do not believe that God or Allah or Buddha would snatch someone from their family and cause them a tremendous amount of grief and pain and hell on earth so that they could be an extra angel in heaven. I don’t believe that. That is not the God that I believe in. The God that I believe in is a kind and loving God.
“I have a message from your wife/husband/loved one.” I had two different occasions when people felt compelled to sit down and talk to me because they felt sincerely that they had received a message from Cindy that she wanted them to deliver to me. I have no doubt these people truly believed they had received a message from my late wife, and I know that they had pure intentions in delivering the message.
What I found odd about that situation was that neither one of those people knew my wife or had ever met her. I sat around many evenings scratching my head wondering why my wife would deliver a message to a total stranger and not to someone that she had known in life. I decided to reject the idea that my wife was communicating with me from the great beyond. If I’m being honest, I also found it somewhat creepy and disturbing and bothersome. I am still trying to figure why it bothered me. I am not saying what you have to believe. If someone talks to you and says that they have a message from your loved one and you believe it to be true, that is up to you. The other reason that I mention it is that I do not want you to be shocked if it happens to you.
“It was for the best.” There are times when someone is suffering from a terminal disease such as cancer or leukemia and I know they are suffering. Because they suffered, people at the funeral or memorial service will tell the person who is grieving that the person dying “was for the best”. I’ve never known anyone grieving the loss of a loved one who really thought their dying was for the best. This is another case where people are saying things to try to make you feel better, but often what they say makes you feel a little bit worse. Have mercy on them because they do not know what to say, and they feel very awkward. They are just feeling bad for you.
“You look like you are doing pretty good/ you are holding up well.” I am not sure how I was supposed to look—unshaven, pale with red eyes? Disheveled and in my slippers all day? Curled up in a ball? Does the outside of me really say how I am doing? The outside is not in any way an accurate barometer of what is going on inside a person’s head. It’s kind of an odd comment, and my theory is that they are trying to convince themselves that I am OK because I looked good. I never really knew what to say to that one. If they could have only seen me in bed late at night when I was an emotional wreck—soaking my pillow in tears, I don’t think they would have said it then.
“It was God’s will.” I am just a mere mortal, and I have no idea what God’s will is. I would not ever question him and his will. But when people said that to me—and it was said a few times—it didn’t make me feel better. I thought “Ok, so what if it was God’s will. She still didn’t make it—she died—so do I feel good about that? Nope. What if it wasn’t God’s will and just an accident? I still felt bad about it. It brought me zero comfort.
So I just try to keep in mind that people in general are good hearted and they are trying to help. I do appreciate knowing that and it did bring me comfort.
Photo: Flickr/Emily Hill