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Useless Platitudes

Things like “Everything happens for a reason” and “You’ll become a stronger/kinder/more compassionate person because of this” brings out rage in grieving people. Nothing makes a person angrier than when they know they’re being insulted but can’t figure out how.

It’s not just erasing your current pain that makes words of comfort land so badly. There’s a hidden subtext in those statements about becoming a better, kinder, and more compassionate because of your loss, that often-used phrase about knowing what’s “truly important in life” now that you’ve learned how quickly life can change.

The unspoken second half of the sentence in this case says you needed this somehow. It says that you weren’t aware of what was important in life before this happened. It says that you weren’t kind, compassionate, or aware enough in your life before this happened. That you needed this experience in order to develop or grow, that you needed this lesson in order to step into your “true path” in life.

As though loss and hardship were the only ways to grow as a human being. As though pain were the only doorway to a better, deeper life, the only way to be truly compassionate and kind. ―Megan Devine

Let’s refer to those in the quote above as soothers. Maybe they think they are consoling a griever or encouraging them, but it does neither. The only positive outcome allows the soother to feel better about themself for attempting to help. Some soothers will attempt to convince themselves and others that they are just trying to show the griever how life should be or could be, but deep down it is rooted in power and dominance because it presupposes knowing better how to manage grief. They treat grievers as though we have somehow forgotten the good things in life and are ignorant of our surroundings. Many Christians are guilty of this passive-aggressive soothing, and it is often the most hurtful when they tie the advice to one’s faith.

Spiritual bypassing—the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs—is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. The spiritual ideals of any tradition, whether Christian commandments or Buddhist precepts, can provide easy justification for practitioners to duck uncomfortable feelings in favor of more seemingly enlightened activity. When split off from fundamental psychological needs, such actions often do much more harm than good. —Robert Augustus Masters

Grievers are told “this is a short time compared to heaven”, “all tears will be gone in heaven”, “let God be your comfort”, “be joyful/thankful for what God has given you (or for what time you had)”, etc. What I hear is I have 40 or more years before heaven and I do not know how I could possibly make it that long. I wake up everyday saying “&#@^” as I become conscience and the realization that he is dead hits again. Most Sundays, I am crying in church from grief, yet I attend and serve as an exercise of faith. Is this not enough? I am told to be thankful for a roof over my, head, food on the table and clothing on my back as if these things help one forget about their child. Does telling a crying parent one of these platitudes stop one tear? No, it just evokes anger, resentment, loneliness, and exclusion.

True comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away. Companionship, not correction, is the way forward. ―Megan Devine

Grieving parents of a suicide are already on edge; angry at the world because it keeps turning without their child, angry at God, angry at those who abandoned them in their grief, and sometimes even angry at their child for leaving. Maybe they are not quite angry, but those hurts still exist. If you want to support your grieving friend, please don’t placate with words that are “telling” some fact of comfort, grief, or a change of emotion. Let the anger be. Allow the tears to flow. Let the grief stay.

Acknowledgment–being seen and heard and witnessed inside the truth about one’s own life–is the only real medicine of grief. ―Megan Devine

So what can one say? “This bites!”, is a start, though I would go stronger. The best thing is to be with the person and follow their lead. If you know the person is open to talking about their loved one, as I am, then share! If you want to share but are unsure if the person is okay with talking about their loved one, gently ask first. Maybe just sit and listen, but please stay a while in the silence. We love you, even when our life seems completely dark.

Grief can be incredibly lonely. Even when people show up and love you as best they can, they aren’t really with you in this. They can’t be. It so very much sucks that, in large part, you are in this alone. And also, you can’t do this alone. ―Megan Devine

See Related: Vultures, People Say the Darndest Things on Suicide

Published inFaithGrief

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