It was the third time I’d taken a leave of absence from my job to grieve.
This time, it was to cope with the unlimited pain that holds hand with the loss of a child. That clutching and desperate gasp to attempt to suck life back into reality but instead, my throat was scalded by the tears of truth.
The knowing. It was not to be. She or he was not to be. I sought comfort in many places, but I did not seek it from people. You see, the difficult thing with grief is, the ones on the outside often don’t seem to say words that resonate and comfort.
Instead, it’s the awkward silence and pitiful glances, or worse, the list of what not to say whenwr someone has suffered. In my experience, it was the poignancy of grieving my unborn baby. A baby that will never smile or whimper, never squeeze tiny fingers around mine, never nuzzle my face in the crook of my neck.
I quickly learned to call my miscarriages, “the silent grief”. Because, it seemed, I walked very much alone.
Oh, there were those who tried. Some with good intentions, others with intentions I still can’t decipher to this day. Later, when the healing was well-progressed, I took time to consider why some of the words uttered were like daggers into my already raw heart.
What Not to Say
“At least you hadn’t bonded with it yet.” There were several painful symptoms in that statement. My child, being called an “it”, one of them. The other, the assumption I had not bonded with my child. That somehow, I had to hold, nurture, speak to, and see my child to form a connection.
“Someday, you’ll have a healthy baby, and this will all be a bad dream.” To a mother who has just lost their baby, this statement was akin to replacing my child with another. Diminishing my child into an imaginary circumstance that somehow, never actually existed in the first place.
”Maybe there is something God is trying to teach you.” Yes. Probably He is. But the insinuation that He created this tragedy for my spiritual benefit placed the entire blame on my shoulders. If I had only been wiser, more tuned in to whatever God was trying to say, maybe He wouldn’t have had to do something so drastic to get my attention.
“There’s always the future and a hope. It’s a promise.” But, for an expectant mother, she’s already been living in her future hope. And now, bluntly, it is a dead hope.
Yes, there were many times people should not have spoken. I don’t harbor bitterness though, because, I myself have struggled with how to comfort someone in a grief to which I cannot relate.
The moment I stand in a line waiting to extend comfort to a parent who has lost their child in an accident. The passing of an elderly soul sitting by the grave of their spouse in a cemetery. Oh, how I wish to say something. But what? I am terrified to unintentionally be the person who drove more pain into my heart.
I want to comfort, but in doing so, will I only inflict more pain?
But I also remember words said to me that became the comfort to my raw and bleeding soul.
Comfort I hadn’t expected to find. Comfort that came in the form of words that resonate to this day.
I believe in any form of grief, and whatever the circumstance, there are safe words to extend.
Here are 6 things to say that are comforting and will resonate with the grieving.
1. “I see you” (or “I hear you”).
Oh to be seen and heard in my grief! To be recognized as someone grieving! It legitimizes that ache, recognizes it as reality, and validates the grieving without placing blame. More than an “I’m sorry”, and “I see you” comes alongside, not in sympathy, but in empathy. It helps to carry the grief instead of merely sending encouragement from the sidelines.
2. “It is okay to grieve.”
Sometimes, especially the strong, need to hear they’re not being judged for their tears. We tend to compare our grief to another’s and therefore diminish our own as not as justified, or not as severe. When in reality, grief is simply that. Grief.
Adding “... to grieve” completes the “it’s okay... ”, because a simple “it’s okay” resonates as not true. What happened is not okay. But to grieve? Yes. That is justified.
3. "Take the time that you need.”
Being released from obligations and commitments can be an immense relief to someone in grief. The whole, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” is a still a mantra many consciously and subconsciously adhere to. Bully through. Suck it up, buttercup. Keep going. No. When someone you’ve committed to relieves you of your commitment in recognition of your grief, it is a soothing balm as the rawness burns with every reminder that life must go on.
4. “They will always be a part of you.”
Biblically speaking, the one who has passed may not live in our hearts or their spirits may not hover around us, but their memories, their legacies, the footprints of their lives, will. God’s creation of a soul that has touched ours in life, is a permanent brand that will mark us forever. We often try to grab hold of the truth that the loved one is with the Lord, and while yes, the truth does bring comfort, it is precious to be reminded that it is also legitimate to hold their memory close.
5. “When you’re ready, I am here.”
Many of us experiencing grief are not ready to bid it farewell. This can span days and can live with us for years. We hold on to grief, because to let it go feels as though we are letting the one we loved drift away. An offer such as this, subtly speaks to the reality we all know deep inside. That, to live in grief too long becomes unhealthy. Still, there is often a feeling of guilt that our grief has an expiration date. It doesn’t. It never will. An offer of recognition that, “when you’re ready”—when you’re ready to learn how to live in spite of grief—“I am here”—you will not walk alone.
6. “Your baby... ”
I add this sixth one specifically for those who have lost an unborn child. To hear someone recognize that you have lost a baby is to affirm the pain of their grief. The miscarriage of a pregnancy—whatever the cause—is often overlooked as if the mother had a very bad flu, or appendicitis, or a procedure that needs recovery. Too often, the loss of an unborn baby is not recognized with the seriousness that the death of an older child, one born and then lost, may carry. But, to the mother, it is their baby, their precious little one, even if their little faces weren’t fully formed, their personalities still unknown, and their spirits the un-seeable part that intermingled and clung to their mother. To hear the acknowledgement, “Your baby . . .”, is to hear, “you have lost a child”.
It is a grief weighted on many scales with many levels of trauma and tragedy. But it is a child, first and foremost. They will always be the little voices that echo in their mother’s heart until reunited by God’s grace.
When you see someone grieving, I urge you not to be a fixer. There is nothing to fix, nothing that can be fixed, and offering resources and words intended to bring about a result other than comfort, can become burdensome, hurtful, and perhaps, unintentionally, place blame where it does not belong.
Instead, come alongside.
As Joshua held up Moses’ arms when he was too weary to raise his staff for the Israelites to look upon and find hope, be that to the grieving. Be their Joshua.
It’s in carrying one another that we truly comfort. Sometimes, it isn’t in our words, it’s in the actions and the intention of our hearts.
Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Christy, Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. Jaime works as a human resources director in Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband and two children.
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