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.

Easter series: If Jesus writes a letter about suffering and betrayal

Sometimes God speaks in the first person. That’s how personal He is in our relationship with Him. Perhaps, He is speaking to some of you who are reading this. –Dear child,
I’ve suffered. I get it. I get you. I’ve been there. In the darkest pit; in the most traumatic pain. Rejected by those who loved me. 

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Psalm 22:14–18  ESV

But I suffered for a cause—so that God’s will may be fulfilled. 

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” Luke 22:42 NIV

I’ve gone through it all and paid all debts, once and for all your past, present and future wrongs.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

Most of all, I’ve made a way to connect you back to God, to an eternal, loving relationship. 

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I’ve given you the ultimate hope that no one and nothing could ever snatch away from you. The Devil’s scheme is defeated. Death is beaten. 

“But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:10 NIV

Suffering will one day cease. 

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 NIV

I’m here, my child. In your darkest pit, I’m with you. Even though you can’t see me, I’m with you, you are not alone. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. I love you. I always have; I always will.
You're Gonna Be Ok (Lyric Video) - Brian & Jenn Johnson

I know it's all you've got to just be strong
And it's a fight just to keep it together
I know you think that you are too far gone
But hope is never lost
Hope is never lost

Hold on, don't let go
Hold on, don't let go

Just take one step closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You'll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You're gonna be ok

I know your heart is heavy from those nights
But just remember that you are a fighter
You never know just what tomorrow holds
And you're stronger than you know
You're stronger than you know

Hold on, don't let go
Hold on, don't let go

Just take one step closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You'll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You're gonna be ok

Just take one step closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You'll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You're gonna be ok

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My husband’s cancer—one year down the road

A year has passed since my husband was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma. The haematologist said that my husband can opt to “watch and wait” and not proceed with chemotherapy unless the symptoms of the disease change.

We have lived an almost normal life for the past year, but are bluntly reminded of reality whenever we go to the hospital for his medical checkup. Like this trip—I was seated beside my husband at the Cancer Centre of the hospital as we waited to see the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor. We were surrounded by different people: middle-age, elderly, some are alone, some came with families. But all of them have one thing in common—cancer.

For me, a wife of a husband with lymphoma, a daughter with a biological father, mother, stepfather with cancers, and friends too; I have been in and out of the hospital environment, especially the cancer ward since 2010.

I have the cancer-patient image blazed into my memory cells. Bald, skin-and-bones scrawny. Their expressions, sometimes downcast, solemn, even fearful. Occasionally brave, with a smile.

In the cold of the air-conditioned waiting room, the whites of the hospital wall, the bending of the heads of people looking at their phones, the blank looking-into-the-distance expressions—I often wonder, what’s on their mind?

Maybe my husband heard my thought.

“I wanna do what I want while I still can,” said my husband out of the blue as we sat down for our cafeteria lunch, post-appointment with the TCM doctor.

I looked up from my meal to him, paused for a few seconds and declared,”You know, just now when I stepped out of the cold hospital to get some fresh air and sunshine, I looked up to the blue skies, and this thought came into my mind: we need to change our lifestyle.”

It’s not that we are living a dangerous lifestyle. I think we are above average concerning taking care of our health, with our food and exercises. But I just felt these words in my mind…we need to have:
More sun
More light
More openness
More happiness
More space
More hope
More energy
More smiles
More love
More prayer
More dependence on God
More letting go

It has been a very tough two years for us. Dealing with cancer of self and others, illnesses, caregiving, hospitals, death, family crisis, work crisis, work, etc. If anything, to me, these two years is an accelerated course in maturity.

Though it has taken an emotional toll on us; we’ve pulled through by the grace of God and prayer. Thank God our marriage relationship strengthened through the trials as we each formed a pillar of support for each other. We’ve pulled through too, through love being given to others and received from others. Love—soften all the blows of life.

Perhaps we’ll tweak “I wanna do what I want while I still can” to “I wanna do what I need to do while I still can”.

We’ll go on living with a renewed vision of being even more intentional with our lives.
To serve people.
To do some of the things we like that make our souls very pleased and happy, like travelling. (Double yay!)
To look at the bigger picture—life on earth is merely a journey as we are pilgrims on the way to eternity with God.
To manage or remove unhelpful external circumstances when we can; to learn to let go when we can’t.
To forgive ongoing, recurring hurts from people. (This is still tough for me.)
To learn how to de-stress.
To adopt the mindset of less is more; living a simpler life.

And because we can trust in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Almighty God—to keep learning and practising living with these golden words:
Instead of worrying, pray.
and
Let it go.

 

Receive the HopeMail newsletter on Sundays.

I send one article a week exclusively to this mailing list before it’s posted on this site and anywhere else.

There’s no spam. Just honest, useful content to help walk toward a joyful life. Why not join us?

Send me HopeMail!