Expressions That Don’t Always Comfort
IF YOU have ever felt deep grief, have you at times felt hurt by remarks made by others? While most people seem to know what to say to give comfort, many bereaved persons can recall remarks that did not help. Ursula Mommsen-Henneberger, writing in the German Kieler Nachrichten, stated that some parents “are deeply hurt when outsiders say: ‘But you still have the other children, don’t you?’” She answers: “The others may be a consolation but they aren’t a substitute.”
Bereavement counselor Kathleen Capitulo told Awake!: “Another expression to avoid is, ‘I know what you are feeling.’ The truth of the matter is that no one really knows what another person is going through. However, you can validate what they are feeling. You can assure them that their feelings are natural.”
Abe Malawski, as reported in the book Recovering From the Loss of a Child, “strongly feels it takes someone who has lost a child to know what losing a child is.” He stated: “You can have fifteen children, and it will make no difference. You can never replace a child.”
In the case of a miscarriage or stillbirth, other expressions, though sincere, that do not upbuild are: “You’ll soon get pregnant again and forget all about this.” “It’s better this way. The baby would have been deformed anyway.” “It’s a blessing in disguise.” In the cruel moment of loss, these clichés, no matter how well intentioned, cannot ease the agony.
Religious platitudes offered by some clergymen are another irritant to the bereaved. Saying that ‘God wanted another angel’ paints God as cruel and selfish and amounts to blasphemy. Furthermore, it has no support in logic or in the Bible.
Should a Christian Mourn?
What about Christians who lose a child in death? At times some quote the words of Paul to the Thessalonians: “You should not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, New English Bible) Did Paul forbid grief and mourning? No, he merely said that the Christian who has a hope does not grieve in the same manner as those who have no hope.—John 5:28, 29.
To illustrate this point, how did Jesus react when Mary told him that Lazarus was dead? The account tells us: “Jesus, therefore, when he saw [Mary] weeping and the Jews that came with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and became troubled.” Then, when he was taken to where the dead man lay, “Jesus gave way to tears.” So is it wrong to grieve? Does it show a lack of faith in God’s promise of a resurrection? No, rather it indicates a deep love for the dead person.—John 11:30-35; compare John 20:11-18.
Another approach that can be disturbing is the condescending one that assures the bereaved, ‘Time is the great healer.’ Also, avoid the question, “Have you got over it yet?” As one British mother said: “Those who ask, ‘Have you got over it yet?’ do not really understand what it is to lose someone as close as a child. We will not get over it until we have him back in the resurrection.” Perhaps Shakespeare’s phrase is apt: “Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.”
Sometimes the father becomes the victim of a thoughtless attitude. One bereaved father became angry when people asked: “How is your wife doing?” He stated: “They would never ask how the husband is. . . . It is so wrong, so unfair. A husband feels it just as much as the wife. He grieves, too.”
‘Keep a Stiff Upper Lip’?
In many cultures the idea is taught that men especially should not manifest their emotions and grief but should ‘keep a stiff upper lip.’ The 18th-century English author Oliver Goldsmith spoke of “the silent manliness of grief.” But is that silent manliness necessarily the best way to work out one’s grief?
In her book The Bereaved Parent, Harriet Sarnoff Schiff cites the case of her husband: “Here was a man, a father, who watched his child being buried and according to convention was asked by society to ‘keep a stiff upper lip.’” She adds: “He paid dearly for maintaining a stiff upper lip. As time went on, instead of coming out of his state of grieving, he sank deeper and deeper into sorrow.”
The husband described his feelings, and maybe others can identify with them. “I feel as if I am walking across the Arctic snowcap. I am very tired. I know if I lie down to rest I will fall asleep. I know if I fall asleep I will freeze to death. I just don’t care. I can’t fight my tiredness any more.”
So, what is Harriet Schiff’s advice? “To forget all about that good old Anglo-Saxon ethic of stoicism and to cry. Let the tears come. . . . They help wash away sorrow.” The writers of Surviving Pregnancy Loss offer counsel that applies to both women and men: “Stoicism may be greatly admired by some, but only by grappling with grief can one eventually be free of it.” (Italics ours.) Otherwise, the danger exists of relapsing into what is termed “inadequate grieving,” which may have disastrous consequences for years to come.
Inadequate grieving is incomplete grieving, when the person puts the mourning process on hold instead of allowing it to flow through to acceptance of the separation. It can manifest itself in at least three ways—as repressed, delayed, and chronic mourning. What can be done to help?
Professional counsel may be needed. A supportive family doctor or spiritual counselor may be the answer. Perceptive family members may also help. The person needs help to keep moving through the grieving process.
Thus, Jess Romero admits he wept openly at the loss of his daughter and his wife in the plane crash. He told Awake!: “After some weeks my sisters took me from the hospital to the house, and as I entered I saw my daughter’s picture on the wall. My brother-in-law saw that I was affected by it and he said, ‘You go right ahead and cry.’ So I did. I was able to unburden myself of some of my pent-up grief.”
While the grieving process can heal some of the hurt, there is only one lasting solution for most bereaved persons—to see their loved one again. So is there a hope for the dead? Will there be a resurrection? Please read the final article in this series.