3-part series: What not to say to a grieving or hurting person

My mum went from a robust frame to a shrivelled skin and bones shell due to a 14-month of cancer and chemo hell. I lost her when she was 57 years old. Said my last goodbye with a gentle kiss on her eyelid as I saw her breathed her last breath. We’ll meet again in Heaven, I told her. 

“You know, you shouldn’t be so sad. Your mum is with Jesus now.” said someone with a righteous tone, when I shared about grieving over my mum. My brain felt like shouting angrily at her. I told her sternly with matching, burning eye-contact, “Don’t you dare tell me how to feel or not to feel.”
I think the saving grace was she didn’t quote Bible verses to make her points valid.

The pain and experience of a grieving or hurting person are not for anyone to attempt to understand—but rather to empathize. Click To TweetThe intention of this three-part series is to hopefully help us to better walk alongside those who are hurting. Next week, I’ll share “How can we help a grieving or hurting person?”
For the third part of the series, I’ll share my existing article “Don’t go through (and don’t let someone go through) pain alone.” I think it’ll be a fitting wrap up for the series of “Dealing with those who are hurting”.

I’m certainly still on a learning process as there are no one-size-fits-all set of rules. But I hope this series can help us to be more aware and careful when dealing with these delicate situations.

One golden reminder, at different points in our own lives, the situation will reverse to us being the grieving or hurting person. So, please have this in mind and really, just asking ourselves, how would we like to be at the receiving end of someone’s good intentions?

A three-part series is to hopefully help us to better walk alongside those who are hurting.

Why do our good intention of comforting a grieving or hurting person turned out bad?
It’s safe to say most people have good intentions when faced with a grieving or hurting friend. But, why do some of us ended up alienating the person we wanted to offer comfort and help?

Perhaps it’s to do with our own discomfort with discomfort. We instinctively want order, control, comfort and thus, felt uneasy when things are out of whack. And we subconsciously want to help the grieving or hurting person to “feel better”…although prematurely.

We also don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t really put ourselves in the other person’s shoes simply because we are not them. Yes, we can’t imagine what they are going through, not 100% anyway. So, stop trying to.

We try to logically understand why a grieving or hurting person is saying certain things: “I hate so and so!” “I’m so angry at God!” and we tried to correct them (again, with good intentions). Or they might be asking questions like “What does God want?! Why is He doing this?!”. Please discern whether are they expressing their raw emotions or are they seeking an answer?

From my personal experiences both with grieve and hurts, here’s a guide of what not to say to a grieving or hurting person:

  • You are a strong man/woman.
  • Be strong.
  • Be strong for your children.
  • Chin up.
  • He/she is in a better place. There’s no more suffering.

What does this mean? They don’t need to have to be strong at this moment. By saying that, we have closed the door for them to heal by forcing them to suppress their feelings. I think these statements should be made illegal.

  • God has better plans for you.
  • God has a purpose for you.
  • Maybe it’s God’s will.

We are not God.

  • Bible verses, motivational quotes at the wrong time.

Unless we are so intimately guided by the Holy Spirit to release these words to the hurting, let the person have the space to come to terms with the situation. 

  • I know how you feel.
  • I know how you feel. When I <insert your own experience>

No, we don’t.

  • It’s not as bad as it seems.
  • Look at it this way.
  • Don’t be so sad.
  • Why are you so affected by it?

Don’t belittle their feelings and don’t compare the levels of pain.

The grey areas:

  • How are you?

At the right time, this gives permission for the person to express their feelings. At the wrong time, it’ll feel intrusive. The person might be so down that he or she has no energy to even talk about it. At the worst time, it’ll feel offensive. “My <someone> <died/betrayed/left/cheated>, and you are asking me, how am I?!”

  • Bible verses, comforting quotes.

At the right time, especially if guided by the Holy Spirit, it’ll lend blankets of comfort to the person. At the wrong time, well.

Sigh. I know it’s not easy. We really just want to express our love for the person. However, saying the wrong things with the right intention may risk making a person feel isolated in their pain.  Sometimes all the person need at that point in time is an acknowledgement of their feelings. With that, next week, I’ll share some thoughts about how can we help a grieving or hurting person.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.