Most of us have been there: we are confronted with a friend who isn’t just in mourning but grief-stricken in their loss. Someone dear to them — a friend, a child, a spouse, a parent, a truly Loved One — has died. They are in the insanity that the ripping of this fabric of their lives can bring.
We don’t really know what to say. We fumble, looking for the right things to say, something appropriate, maybe something that makes use look wise and knowing.
It isn’t going to work.
What can you say? What can you do?
First, don’t say stuff just to make you feel better. Being around grief is extremely uncomfortable. It feels like a giant black hole, as if nothing you say will make them feel better.
He just lost his youngest son, who asphyxiated himself in the garage by running the car. There isn’t a damn thing you’re going to say to make that not feel like his very lungs have been torn from him.
But you feel pretty uncomfortable. You don’t like all this emotion riding right there on his face. Or not. So you say stupid things like:
- He’s in a better place
- At times like these, it is comfort to know he had his salvation in (Jesus / G*D / Reincarnation / Allah / atheist certainty)
- Death ends all things
- I know what you feel: let me talk about my losses
- At least now he won’t have to suffer with this attraction to boys
This makes you feel better but it’s not even cold comfort. Just sandpaper that father’s eyes and pour in alcohol. It’d feel better.
You say this stuff because you want to feel less uncomfortable. Being around dead things is unnerving these days. Being around loss feels like it might be contagious. These dumb utterances make you feel good and righteous but they do not help the grieving. Leave your platitudes in your mouth. If this is what you are going to say, just keep your trap shut, take their hand, and look lovingly at them.
Or you can say one of the three things. Just three. It’s easy to remember. I learned them from a guy who ran YFC in Detroit back in the 80s.
I love you.
Take their hand, look them in their hollowed out eyes, and say just that.
Don’t add anything to it. Don’t think that you have some killer wisdom that will suddenly make the big difference. When Lazarus’s sister came crying out to him after her brother’s death, Jesus knew exactly what to say to her: nothing. He broke down and wept instead. You’re not holier or smarter or more spiritual than him.
If are close, weep with them in their pain.
These words are so easy to say because you don’t have to be brilliant. You don’t have to be a psychologist or a priest or a theologian or a guru. You just say something true and then stand with them in their pain. Let it wash over you.
Let the enormity of their grief break you, just a little, as it has crushed them.
Then let the grieving do what they are going to do. If they want to talk, if they want, or laugh, if they want, or say nothing, or walk away, or talk about the importance of eternal hopes or reincarnation or how they will live on in our memory, do any of the myriad things that grieving people do. Grief is madness. Be willing to sit in their storm.
But don’t say something you don’t mean. Don’t say “I love you” if that is not true. Don’t say “I care” if you aren’t willing to back it up.
Just say “I’m sorry”.
It is enough.
Then stop talking.