Friday, January 17, 2014

What NOT to say (and what to say instead)

I think the vast majority of people, most of the time, really have the best intentions when they respond to a parent who has just experienced a loss, or whose child is facing major, even life-threatening medical hurdles. It is not an easy situation to automatically respond to in a helpful manner. What do you say? How do you express your sympathy gently and sincerely? Especially men may feel like just being sympathetic, and listening, is not enough - what can they do to "fix" or at least improve the situation?

Sometimes, in the transfer of sympathy from the heart to the mouth, something goes awry and we end up putting our foot in our mouth in a major way. Of course, an insensitive comment is, well, an insensitive comment, and that at a time when the recipient of it is least willing and able to deal with it.

Assuming you are trying to be an encouragement and a blessing rather than a source of more grief, here are just some things you should never say in this situation:

- It could be worse

Thank you for stating the obvious. I suppose any situation could always be worse. How would you feel if one of your children died tragically, and someone tried to console you by telling you that hey, all your kids could be dead, right? Yes, things could be worse - but that doesn't mean this situation isn't tragic in and of itself.

- You should be thankful

Being thankful, and grieving, are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if we truly are thankful for something, we will be sad about losing it to the extent to which it was dear to us. If my husband gives me a gift that I treasure and appreciate, and it is somehow lost or broken, I will feel that loss. How much more so the eternal soul of a child, God's greatest gift to us on this earth? To insinuate that a parent who grieves is failing to be thankful for other blessings in their lives is insulting. It is possible to grieve a loss, while fully realizing blessings in other areas, and even in the tragedy itself.

- I just *know* everything will be fine

Unless you are God, you really don't know, so please stop going around dispensing such false hopes. Especially, if it is followed by something like "because you are such an awesome Christian/parent/etc., because you eat healthy/exercise/etc., because [fill in the blank]." This adds a whole new layer of guilt - it implies that if things go wrong (and they very well might), it's because the parent somehow failed as a Christian/parent/in their diet/exercise/fill in the blank.

Job's friends basically told him the same thing - that bad things only happen to bad people. I completely understand why he called them "miserable comforters."

- Whatever happens, happens

If you want to come across as callous, and someone never to call on with prayer needs, this is the line for you. God's will can be greatly influenced through prayer. Whatever happens may not happen, since the Bible is clear to tell us that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."

And, my favorite this time around:

- So, you're not still trying to have a home birth, are you??!?

Birth? What birth are you talking about? You mean the one months and months down the road, after we clear dozens more life-threatening complications? I think if we make it that far, I wouldn't care if they had to take the baby out through my head. I am not thinking about birth, I am thinking about keeping the baby alive, today.

Maybe your clue could have been the fact that we have gone to medical extremes to save the life of our unborn children. So clearly, if and when necessary (which would be very rare), we are more than ready and willing to take whatever measures are available. Rest assured, nobody loves, and cares about, our children more than we do. Because of this, we will choose the safest route for birth, as we have with all of our children.

And whatever you say, please be sure to never say any of these:

- Well, you already have so many children

Like that means we somehow love them less as individuals - what's one more or less?

- You should start using birth control

In other words, if this child had never existed, you never would have had any problems to begin with. I will assume you are only willing to have children if you knew they would not cause you any pain, suffering, or other discomfort.

And, how naive of you to think that tragedy never strikes firstborn or only children.

- So, you really think this child is in Heaven now? 

I actually had a Christian ask me this after they found out about a miscarriage early in our marriage. If you fail to understand or believe this simple Bible truth, at least just keep your mouth shut. What comfort are your words to those hurting parents?


I could go on, and I am sure my readers could add much more to the list from their own experiences, but I will leave it at that for now.

Instead, here are some things that would be appropriate to say in any situation. 

- I am so sorry.

- I will be praying for you.

- How are you doing?

- I have been thinking about you.

- Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. 

- You will get through this, somehow, with God's help.

And then, there really isn't a need to say much else besides. The person you are talking to may feel comfortable in sharing more of their heart with you, or they may not, but by being sensitive you won't have made it onto their "not a safe person to talk to" list.


  1. We had an adoption that went wrong. We had our little girl since she was born until just after her second birthday when the court ordered that some paperwork was not filed correctly and she was returned to her biological mother who after two years had changed her mind about giving her up for adoption. I can still painfully remember to this day (she has been gone 5 years) some of the insensitive comments that people made to us when all this was happening which include many of the comments in your list. I say all this because it took me a long time to realize that most people aren't trying to be insensitive and they just don't realize how hurtful the things they say can be to someone who is grieving. It is hard to know the right words to say if your not the one going through a trial, but at least the person cares enough about you to try and "comfort you". For me, it was much more painful when people didn't say anything and acted as if everything was alright. I don't know whether it was because they were afraid it would upset me if they brought it up (as if I didn't think about it all the time) or it was because they personally didn't want to deal with it.

  2. I wish I could have handed this list to people last year, after we experienced a miscarriage at twelve weeks. It was infuriating...not to mention extremely hurtful.

    Praying for you and yours.

  3. The comment that I got during my miscarriage still stings - "Well, you weren't really pregnant yet anyway." People sometimes don't realize how much an attempt to comfort can hurt.

    However, the odd thing is that the most idiotic words come to my own lips during times of tragedy, and I have to work on NOT saying them, though I'm sure I screw up regularly. There's just something about trying to comfort a grieving person that makes us say ridiculous thing. Is it a combination of awkwardness and not knowing what to say?

    When I'm on the receiving end, I try to remember that people really are trying their best to be nice, and when I'm on the giving end, I do my best to keep it basic and not try to reason people out of their grief. It's a challenge both ways.

    Lots of love,

    1. Agree with you Diana. Sometimes we just don't know what to say to someone who is grieving. I know I've learned the hard way. I too have said very stupid things because I felt like" I'm sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you" was just not enough. It actually felt meaningless because it's so cliche. Everyone says it.

  4. Zsuzsanna,

    I am so so sorry for your loss. I have been wanting to comment for a while but honestly I just didn't know what to say.

    I miscarried our third child a year ago around 11 weeks. Some people just don't understand that connection a woman has to her child the second she finds out she is expecting. To lose that dream is something that only other woman who have been through it understand. I know most truly mean well, but to just to tell me to just be grateful for the two children I do have does not make me feel any better at all. In fact it makes me feel worse because it seems to say that I am being selfish for being upset . Honestly, the loss of a child is a hurt I can't put into words.

    In a perfect word I would have a five month old by now, but I don't and it drives me crazy. People who have not had this experience cannot comprehend how difficult it is to get out of bed some mornings because you wake up thinking about what should have been.It's a real struggle not to just lay in bed all day and cry. But you have to get up because you do have other children to take care of.

    This is harder on the men than they let on because naturally they are Mr. Fix it and they are busy trying to hold you together.The last thing they want on top on losing a baby is losing their wife as well. At least that is what my husband told me.

    In the end all you can do is rely on God's grace to pull you through because on your own you know there is no way you will get through this.

    Praying for you.


  5. sometimes people don't know what to say so they don't think before they speak. It also goes back to a simple "would I want someone to say that to me?" before opening your mouth.

    Luke 6:31

  6. I'm so sorry for your loss!

    I really like your list of things of what not to say, another thing I would add to it is when someone is facing a loss or a very difficult situation it is not okay to claim to know exactly what they are going through because you once upon a time experienced xyz and then launch into something not at all the same and suddenly everything is about them.

    Our family will keep praying for you.

  7. When we lost our second child during pregnancy, I heard a lot of hurtful comments. That was a time of great growth for me as I started to see these people in a different light. I realized they were trying hard to comfort me and, instead of being offended, I started to feel loved when their clumsy words came out. Intent was what mattered, not how they worded it. Once I let go of that, I was blessed so much with the outpouring of love I was receiving. I want others to look past my failings, I need to do that same.

    I don't say this as a lecture on you being wrong, just a different take on this post from my personal experiences and how I handled it.

  8. Another one I hate hate hated in the wake of my fiance's death was "Are you over it, yet?" Um, no. I'm not "over it' and I most likely never will be. I'll move past it, and incorporate this happening into the fabric of my life, but I will never be "over it". It was a death, not a stubbed toe or a lost library book.

    I also found it helpful when people offered specific help, not just "Let me know if I can do anything." People who called and said, "What can I bring you for dinner?" made my life so much easier at a horrible time.

    Lots of hugs and prayers continuing your way...

  9. It was Gods will for your baby.

    1. This is true. But ask yourself: Was this comment necessary? Was this comment kind? Was this comment constructive? Zsuzsanna and her family are grieving a very real loss and it's lousy of you to write such an insensitive statement.

    2. This, in my opinion is the WORST one to hear at a time like this.

  10. Hi there

    These thoughts really resonated with me! I recently lost my husband to a long illness and my 13 year old daughter and I have faced a gammet of strangely inconsiderate responses. I have one of my own to add which probably hurt the most, and that is when people ignore the situation totally. Either by ignoring my presence or leaving an elephant in the room by making no reference to it at all. So, a kind pat on the arm, and an "you are in my thoughts" is all that is needed and we can all move on with "normal" day to day conversations and activities.

    I wish you strength and courage, and of course, you and your family are in our thoughts.

  11. To know the right thing to say in response to another person's tragedy is so difficult. Last year one of my teenage daughter's friends sadly died of cancer, and I struggle to know what to say to her mother, whom I don't know very well. In some ways it is harder now, after several months, than it was in the early days. Do I talk naturally about what my daughter is doing, or do I (unnaturally) avoid mentioning her at all? I think some people would find the first option more upsetting, and others the second, depending on their personality.

    1. Talk about your daughter, and talk about HER daughter too! Say her name; say you miss her; tell any little anecdote or snippet you remember about her. The mother will be so grateful that you remember! The longer it's been since the death, the less likely it is that the mother ever hears her daughter's precious name. Say her name! Say you're so sorry. Say you know her grief is still raw. She will thank you, I promise.

  12. Well, it is good that you have other kids. That is something to be thankful for. :) And make sure you go to the hospital! You don't want anything bad to happen.

    1. Speaking of the wrong things to say. You might want to reread what you wrote Anonymous, put yourself in Mrs. Anderson's shoes (If you can), then decide if you would want someone to tell you the exact same thing you said to her. Your comment is completely antagonistic. She is of course thankful for her other children. Just because she has other kids doesn't make the loss of this one less painful. Each of her children are individual and non-replaceable. You talk as if kids are like dishes; one plate breaks but you have plenty of others, so it doesn't really matter. You're completely heartless and haven't any clue what value children are and what a mother's love is to each of her children individually.

  13. Just wanted to let you know you and your family have been a blessing to my heart.My brother does not know the Lord as his personal savior.One night my mother told me he was listing to a study on revelations,and I thought I knew the voice and I was right it was your husband.Just thought I would let you all know that through the use of"youtube"you are reaching those in need.May the Lord richly bless your day.Oh and I will be praying for you and the twins.
    In Christ Maria age(20)

  14. Though you don't know me, and I don't know how to work this blog thing, so I hope this gets through: know that you and your family are in my daily prayers.

    A few years ago when at a time of loss, a very good friend tried to offer comfort by saying the stupidest stuff. I finally looked at him and said, "Don't talk. I need to know you are here and nothing more." We sat for over an hour in silence, and it meant the world to me.

    Please know that I am with you and your family, in silence an in prayer, during this time.

    Ray (49)

  15. First of all I am so sorry for your loss. Secondly, what a great list!!!! This is so true, people can be so clueless and hurtful. While this doesn't compare to losing a baby, my husband and I have adopted two children through foster care and are in the process with our third. And when it started to look like our first adoption was falling through it was amazing some of the hurtful things people said. It's not okay to say oh well you can try again. They didn't get it that for a year and a half we had been these children's parents -- they were ours! It's not like we were dog sitting. Any way, I'm glad you shared this list maybe it can get through to a few people.

  16. I've read your blog on and off for a while, and while I don't always agree with you, my heart aches for you right now. I have prayed for you, your family, and your surviving little one. God's blessings for you.

  17. Thank you for this list. I'm sorry to hear that you've heard some of these insensitive comments. You're in our thoughts and continue to be in our prayers. Every week is a huge bonus! God bless you, Pastor Anderson, and the children. Mindy

  18. Most people probably won't say the right thing unless maybe they have had a similar situation. I think I said "I know " assuming things would go the way you wanted . I listen to your husband's teaching that God gives children so I just figured that if he gives them why would he take them back if you are walking with him. I didn't mean you did something wrong if something happened but this has made me wonder about things . If God just gives children why do fornicators get pregnant , why would God give them a blessing in sin . I'm starting to think he just set the system of reproduction in motion and it's on us what we do with it. Should we listen to doctors expertise or just walk in faith I don't know . I have had doctors try to push me to tests like weekly nst's that created more stress than it detected. I felt I didn't need that "I knew" everything was ok by faith . This just makes me question some things are they right or wrong. Sorry if I hurt your feeling saying "I know" I feel bad if that gave you false hope so not my intent.

  19. I'm so terribly sorry for all that you have gone through and am praying for you and your baby.

    My first five babies were miscarried. My last pregnancy was a twin pregnancy, and I lost the twin very early on. People say such incredibly hurtful things without thinking even though they may have the best intentions. Sometimes an "I'm sorry" or "Let me wash dishes so that you can relax" (or something in the vein) is truly the most helpful thing that can be said.

    As my mother used to say and I find myself saying: "If you can't say anything nice, don't speak at all." In this situation it is even more apt.

  20. First, let me offer my condolences. I cannot comprehend the pain and loss you are feeling. That being said, maybe we should just give folks a break in this situation. I doubt anyone in your life would be trying to do anything but offer encouragement and support during this time. Many of us struggle finding the right words to say. How can you comfort a mother who has lost her child? Speaking from experience, maybe it would help to focus on the fact that most people mean well and are trying to show they care however awkward that may be. Wishing you peace and healing.

  21. The following comment was left by a longtime reader of mine, Char (

    I accidentally clicked "delete" when I meant to publish it, which cannot be undone, so I am reposting it here:

    My name is Charlynne taylor and I have read your blog for several years. I am a homeschool mom of 3 and as of January 1st , a widow. My husband Monty had a stroke on October 16 and then a heart attack that took him home on January 1, 2014 at the age of 42. He was the sole provider for our family. In 2012 he lost his job that he had been at for 10 years in turn loosing all his insurance coverage. He was working for walmart at the time of his death until a better paying job came along. He was the sole provider for our family. I am not one to ask for help but, as my preacher has reminded me, that is a pride problem I have. A lady in my church family has started a memorial fund to help me cover the cost of my husbands funeral. Any money that comes in will first and for most go to that and any thing that may come in above that cost will be used to sustain our household while the kids and I figure out exactly how our day to day works without dad. I am sending this request to other homeschool moms that have blogs or facebook pages and am wondering if you would help me to get the word out that our family is in need and share our memorial fund page with your readers. Thank you so much.

  22. Zsuzsa, I am praying for you, Pastor Anderson, and your children. You are loved and appreciated. My heart goes out to your reader, Charlynne, as well. I am praying for you too.

  23. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
    For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. *Mat. 11.

    I prayed to the Lord for guidance for help of knowing what to say in such a time as this. Mrs. Anderson, nothing was revealed within my heart when I prayed to the Lord of what to write/say.

    May the Love of Jesus Christ surround you, Mrs. Anderson with His precious comfort and give you His strength each day. May His powerful guidance every day help you and your family each and ever day in all you do. His protection shield you and your family ''Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. ""Proverbs 30:5.

    love, and


  24. Point heard, taken, and completely understood. I just wanted to quickly say that IF I have been insensitive and said any of these things (I can't recall that I have, but just in CASE) then I am deeply sorry if I have at all added to your pain in ANY way as that would NEVER be my intention. I have more respect for you, your husband and your beautiful children than you could possibly know and I only want to be helpful, encouraging and supportive. My family will continue to pray for yours daily (as I always say, I know, sorry to be redundant) and if there's anything at all I can do to help, please feel free to contact me ANY time. (If you could just edit out this last part here, we should be receiving a settlement from IRS soon for some taxes they unlawfully stole from us, long story, and when we receive that we will GLADLY donate some money to help. We are a paycheck to paycheck family who live on God's good grace to get by, but this will be "unexpected" money coming into our budget and would love to help. May not be alot, but we'll do what we can. If there's anything else I can do, please let me know. Amanda Smith - personal email-

  25. Dear Zsuzsanna,

    You have been on the 'quiet side' too long for comfort. Praying for you and Baby B.

    Warm regards,

  26. I'm so sorry for your loss! I think that sometimes people mean well but just open their mouths and start talking without planning their comments - not a good decision in sensitive situations.
    All the best to you and Baby B!


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