what not to say around death

Yesterday we talked about getting in the same space related to death. Briefly we talked about:

How as a society and church we don’t tend to do well with death.

Death is not something that can be fixed.

Death is not purposeful.

And then we ended with the question of what don’t we say?

I have a few thoughts. My list isn’t exhaustive but it covers a lot.

What not to say:

  • Everything will be ok
  • It’s for the best
  • God needed another angel
  • There’s some good in this
  • Don’t worry Gods in control. He’s got a plan.

You may disagree with some of these but overall here’s why I think we need to avoid this lines of conversation.

This is an emotional experience not one to be conquer with logic or reason. It’s a deeply person, visceral experience that force us to face and engage with parts of ourselves we don’t often have to. Death causes questions and confusion. The problem with these statements isn’t necessarily their factual truth, though some are not true, but rather how little help and possibly how much damage they can do to someone experiencing loss. It’s not the time for ideas and theory, it’s time for love.

Think of all the ways these kinds of statements can be interpreted, especially considering that the person doing the interpretation is in pain. Consider these statements from the position of someone morning loss. They could very easily see it like this.

Everything will be ok –It’s not that big a deal. In a little while this person and their loss won’t be as meaningful or painful to you. It minimizes what’s happening in that moment. “Just buck up you’ll be fine soon. Now isn’t that important.” But that person is trapped in the now, in the full experience of the now. We need to speak to their now not some possible whole future.

It’s for the best – someone how your pain and anguish are for the best. God’s best plan and the best plan for you and your loved one is for that loved one to no longer be in your life. That’s harsh. May dad was in pain for 13 years but even when he passed I’ve never seen it as ‘for the best’. The best would be a healthy dad who met my sons and saw the man I’m becoming. Not one who left years before his time. That’s not the best. Why can’t God just health the person, why is them dying for the best?

God needed another angel – this is so often said when a child dies. It paints God as some kind of selfish malevolent being. He made and gave you a child then changed His mind because He needed it more. He can speak things into existence but needed YOUR child. You don’t need them as much as God does. But make sure you go and ask God for healing a support after He took your child.

There’s some good in this – while I understand the goal, there isn’t. Death wasn’t part of God’s plan. There is no good. Do we think so little of God that He can’t fulfill His purpose unless someone is taken? He’s so constrained that He can’t do good without first horrible trauma. What possible good is here that requires my loss?

Don’t worry God’s in control. He’s got a plan – again, an omnipotent God that can’t do good without causing tram and harm. A God who WANTS bad things to happen to you. It’s part of His plan. Not how I would describe a loving God. Not how I would describe a God of infinite power and grace. God can use pain but when we talk about how God is in control and has a plan we imply that God wanted the bad to happen to fulfill His plan. Like an abusive partner that uses pain and coercion to keep someone under their control.

I talked about God in all of these but they all still apply if the person isn’t a person of faith. In that case there is nothing more. There is this life and that’s it. Saying it’s for the best that someone loss the only life they will ever have or any of the other statements is just a damaging.

The point here is that what you mean and what you say aren’t always the same thing. You can have all the best intentions and still be hurtful. Where you mean to bring healing you can bring greater pain. Be aware of the implications of what you say.

Often it’s better to say nothing. It’s better just to love in presence and in deed.

But if you must say something I’ve got a few ideas for you tomorrow.

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