A few years ago I had the amazing privilege of meeting Art Linkletter. He is perhaps the funniest human being to ever live. Apart from being the best friend & next door neighbor of Walt Disney, Linkletter gained substantial fame by hosting the show Art Linkletter’s House Party. The show’s best-remembered segment was “Kids Say The Darndest Things” in which Linkletter interviewed schoolchildren between the ages of five and ten. Linkletter interviewed more than 23,000 children and the popularity of this segment led to a TV series with the same title hosted by Bill Cosby. I used to love this show and boy was the title true to content. Kids really do say some crazy stuff! I have two real characters who live in my house – my son Isaiah who is 7 and my daughter Aubree who is 5. They are always saying stuff that makes Sonny and I lose it. Their personalities are so much larger than life that a few years ago Sonny actually started documenting some of their best lines on her Blackberry. One time Isaiah was talking to Sonny and as serious as you can be he said; “Mommy I like animals. Skunks…raccoons…burritos.” We think he meant porcupines. Another time we were reading to Aubree and she said “I love this story, it’s about Goliath and the beanjack.” In fact, just the other day, Isaiah got an idea to take jam to some of our neighbors and one of our neighbors paid him $2 for the jar. He told Sonny, “He asked me how much and I told him it was free. He told me he had to pay something so I told him ‘If you exist.’ and he existed so he gave me $2.” Kids can say some funny stuff, but they can also say some pretty mean and hurtful things due to their brutal honesty and seeming inability to filter their thoughts. Have you ever had a kid tell you how old you are or how fat you are or how big your nose is? I’ve discovered that kids aren’t the only ones that say the “darndest things” though. In fact, some of the most “interesting” comments thrown my way have come from adults while I was trying to process my way through periods of grief. With some of those experiences in mind I have come up with a list of the 10 Worst Things To Say to Someone In Grief.
1. He’s in a better place.
2. The good thing is – she lived a good long life.
3. We all saw this coming.
4. There’s a reason for everything.
5. At least he’s not in pain anymore.
6. You’re young, luckily you can have another child.
7. She was such a good person, God wanted her to be with Him.
8. I know how you feel.
9. She did all she came here to do.
10. It was just her time to go.
Here are some traits I have seen about these comments and what may drive them.
1. They want to fix the loss.
2. They are about our own discomfort.
3. They are directive in nature.
4. They rationalize or try to explain the loss.
5. They may be judgmental.
6. They are not about the griever.
7. They may actually minimize the loss.
8. They attempt to put a time line on the loss.
I will never forget when Sonny and I lost our little girl Savannah. We had fought a long battle for her life and couldn’t believe we had to lower her little white casket into the ground. The visual will haunt me forever. No parent should ever outlive their child! I cannot explain the emotion that goes into fighting that kind of fight. To say that Sonny and I were spent would be a gross understatement. When I returned to work a woman walked up to me in the lobby and uttered these words “I understand what you’re going through.” I responded by saying, “Oh really? Have you lost a child?” She said “No, but I understand how it must feel.” I know that her comment seems like a simple, almost natural and helpful thing to say to someone who has just encountered loss, but it really isn’t. When someone is in the middle of a battle with grief, the last thing they want is for you to relate to them. I didn’t want any, what I have come to refer to as, “false understanding.” Unless you have walked the same path, you really cannot understand. You can feel sad, or hurt. You can cry or pray, but understand? It’s simply not possible. So, next time you encounter someone who is drowning in the sea of grief, don’t try to come up with a catchy saying or utter something trite. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. In fact, don’t try to put yourself in their position – trust me you don’t want to be there – rather, take the position you are needed in the most – right alongside them in a position of support, or maybe behind them so you can simply hold them up when their strength runs out. The road is not the same for us all, so do yourself a favor and in times like these do your best to not be quotable.