What Not To Do

By Rachel Hoeing

Last week I read yet another blog about “What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One.” I have come across numerous blogs like this that give advice on what not to say to an orphan, a widow, a mom who lost a child, etc. All are written from the heart. All are written from someone who has been there. Someone who has faced a darkness so deep that they never thought they could return. They are writing in hopes of telling others how to be a better friend to someone else going through these times.

But I don’t think these blogs are helping.

Here is my problem with these blogs. When we share our lists of “What Not To Do” we are creating an atmosphere of anger. We are telling people the things that hurt us or angered us in our time of loss. As we share these lists, the reader goes through them one by one thinking, “Yikes, I said that. Ooops, I did that. Wow, I didn’t know what I did was wrong.”

So instead of giving people ideas of ways to comfort those in need, and give them ideas of what to do, we are instead pushing them further away. We are ultimately telling them to not say anything because no matter how they say it or what they do, it will hurt the one in pain even more.

I experienced two deaths within three months. (My mother and my father) One was completely unexpected. One was a long slow deterioration due to cancer. The ONLY thing that ANYONE did to hurt me during this time of loss was when they did not say anything at all.

I heard many:
“They are in a better place.”
“It’s what God wanted.”
“At least they are not in pain.”
“You’ll see them again one day.”
“Things will get better.”
“Are you doing OK?”

All of the items above are quotes that I have heard those who have experienced loss say were not want they wanted to hear at that time of hurt. But in my opinion, the friends who said these things were just helping. They just wanted to do something, anything, to let me know they cared.

What is the harm in someone saying “the wrong thing?” Really. I don’t know about you, but I was about as low as I could go. One comment about my parent being in a better place wasn’t going to be able to push me down much deeper.

“The wrong thing” never hurt me at all in comparison to the silence I got from some. Silence is the worst. Silence comes from the ones who don’t know what to do or what to say. And more often than not, these same people have probably read the “What Not To Do” blogs and stories over the years and have decided to retreat and not say a word rather than reach out and possibly offend.

I think we need to remember that more times than not, people only want to help. They only want to do what they think is right. They want to make us feel better. Maybe we can learn to take the negative comments and smile, knowing that your friend who said them just wants to be there for you and loves you. I think so many of these instances can also be applied to other areas of life when we discuss how to be there for others. (Divorce, health issues, financial problems, etc.)

But please, don’t stop writing and sharing ways we can be there for each other! There are so many ways to share ideas that will encourage others to reach out to those in need. I shared some ideas in my blog from a few years ago that you can read here. In addition, you can always share a sweet remembrance or a funny story about the deceased loved one. A card or email that is sent even months or years later means more than anyone could imagine. (It is never too late!) If all else fails, a simple “I’m sorry” in an email, phone call, or note is always appropriate.

My hope is that we can all vow to be a little more lenient when it comes to tough times in life. Most everyone just wants to share the love!


5 thoughts on “What Not To Do

  1. Marta Ferragut

    Very good and caring blog. I pray God grants you Rachel peace and the warmth of feeling your parents always in your heart. In fact there is great comfort in receiving friends and family concern and caring when you have lost a loved one, and this is what is important, it is difficult to do it because everyone knows how sad and difficult such a situation is, as the former person expressed just a hug is a loving way to do it.

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  2. Ashleigh

    Spot on Rachel! Nobody ever intends to hurt someone they care for with their words after a loss! When no words come to mind, a hug and “I am thinking of you” seem to do.

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  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this post. I am one of those who never knows what to say (whether it’s a friend who is experiencing a loss or another type of tragedy), and all I want to do is show comfort in some way. I do try to choose my words carefully, but I usually say I am here to listen (and offer hugs) if they ever want to just talk.

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