May 7, 2024

Did I Really Just Say That?

Written by: Pastor Robert Tansill, Pastor of Care and Counseling

I felt horrible that I did it and should have known better. But I did it anyway. I was attending a funeral and was in the visitation line just about to give my condolences to a family member of the deceased when I lovingly whispered to them, “So, how are you doing?” It was too late to take back my words, and if it hadn’t been for the grace and kindness of the family member I had said it to, I would have felt much worse. But she could see on my face that I messed up, and she showed me kindness in the midst of her pain. However, through this experience, I learned a great lesson. As we seek to care for others around us who are in pain, we need to be intentional about our words and actions. This truth is essential at funerals.

Funerals are solemn occasions where family and friends come together to honor and remember a loved one who has passed away. During these emotionally charged gatherings, choosing our words carefully is essential as we seek to comfort and support grieving people. However, sometimes, people inadvertently say things that may cause further pain or discomfort to grieving people. And, as I learned the hard way, there are some things that we should not say at a funeral. Here are just a few:

1. "I know how you feel." While the intention behind this statement may be to empathize with the grieving individual, everyone experiences grief differently. Instead of assuming you understand their emotions, express your willingness to listen and offer support in any way they need.

2. "They're in a better place now." This phrase may comfort some, but others may find it dismissive of their grief. It's important to be mindful of the deceased's beliefs and the beliefs of their loved ones before making assumptions about the afterlife.

3. "At least they lived a long life." While it's natural to seek solace in the positive aspects of a person's life, phrases like this can minimize the depth of grief felt by those who have lost someone dear to them. Instead, acknowledge the significance of their loss and offer your condolences without diminishing their pain.

4. "It's God's will." Mentioning faith as you offer condolences can be comforting for some, but it's crucial to be sensitive to the beliefs of the grieving individual. Not everyone finds solace in Christian explanations for loss, so it's best to offer support by showing your concern through a hug and a smile.

5. "You’ll get over it in time." Grief is a complex and individual process that doesn't adhere to a timeline. Avoid placing expectations on the grieving person's journey in the healing process and offer ongoing support and understanding.

6. "They wouldn't want you to be sad.” While the sentiment behind this statement may be well-intentioned, it can invalidate the grieving person's emotions. Allow them the space to mourn without judgment or pressure to feel a certain way.

7. "Everything happens for a reason." Attributing meaning or purpose to a person's death can hurt those grieving. A close friend who lost a family member told me once that when someone quoted Romans 8:28 to them, he almost punched them because their words felt patronizing and uncaring. Instead of trying to rationalize someone’s loss, offer your presence and support as they navigate their grief journey.

8. "Let me know if you need anything." While this statement comes from a place of kindness, it puts the onus on the grieving individual to reach out for support. Instead, offer specific ways you can help, such as bringing food, running errands, or simply being there to listen. You can also show how much you care by continuing to reach out through cards, letters, e-mails, or phone calls. It's in the months that follow the loss of a loved one that people often feel the most forgotten and alone. During this crucial time, we need to let them know they are still being thought of and cared for.

In conclusion, the words we choose at a funeral can profoundly impact the grieving process. By avoiding these common phrases and offering genuine empathy, support, and understanding, we can help comfort those mourning the loss of a loved one. Even though, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “we do not grieve as those who have not hope,” the point is that we still grieve. As we approach these delicate situations, may we do so with sensitivity and compassion, honoring the memory of the deceased and providing solace, care, love, and support to those left behind. If you would like to learn more about how to effectively care for those who are suffering, check out Kenneth C. Haugk’s book, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart.”

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