Caution: Cliche Ahead

I would venture to say that most bereaved parents tend to be a little sensitive when it comes to cliches and platitudes concerning grief. I know that I am. I try to remind myself, though, that I probably was once one who thought cliches and platitudes were just hunky-dory. I’m sure I thought I was being a help and an encouragement when I told someone to look on the sunny side of life.

I grew up that way. I grew up singing songs that told me, “With Christ in the vessel I can smile at the storm” and “When there’s a rainbow in the sky, the clouds of frown go smiling by.” I was reminded by bumper stickers to “Smile. God loves you.” I grew up feeling that, no matter what I was going through, I had to act and look like everything was okay. If I put a smile on and acted like everything was okay, eventually it would be okay.

Now, I’m all for a good attitude in life and toward life. I think that’s healthy. The “Eeyore’s” in our lives can pull us down after a while. A general Eeyore attitude all the time can put people off. But, I think there’s a difference between having a constant pessimistic attitude and honestly, truly grieving.

People (and I include myself in this) can be really good at the cliches, I think, especially when confronted with difficult situations (such as the death of a child) or when we don’t know what to say. Break out the platitude or “encouraging” Bible verse, slap it on the situation, and it will make everything okay. If the person to whom the cliche is given doesn’t “get” it, that’s their problem, their lack of understanding, their lack of faith.

I ran across a blog a while back that had a picture of an old box and contained the following text underneath the picture:

Carrying something like this around? A box weighted with grief, or resentment, regret, or pain. The best thing to do is LEAVE IT AT THE CROSS. Bring that box to Christ, He’s waiting patiently at baggage claim…. http://mindlesspeace.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/baggage/

Now, I know there are things it’s better we just let go. That being said, I have to say, as a bereaved parent whose walk through grief has been long and hard, I struggled with the concept presented in this post. Do people honestly think that it is really that simple to deal with grief following the death of a child? Was that all I needed to do – lay down my grief at the cross – and all my pain would be “claimed” by Christ? No, of course, it’s not. That’s not even realistic. To me, such cliches are akin to putting a little Hello Kitty band-aid on a huge, gaping wound.

It also makes me wonder if the person who is espouses such cliches really thinks that’s the way it “should” happen. It implies that the person who has grief, resentment, regret or pain isn’t a good enough Christian or isn’t dealing correctly with these issues from a Christian point of view – according to the person who espouse such cliches. To an unseasoned griever, it additionally puts a boatload of guilt on him/her about what s/he “should” be doing. I don’t think that’s fair. We need to check those “should’s” at the door!

The Bible says that God near to those who are brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18). The Bible says that God collects my tears and records them in His book (Psalms 56:8). The Bible says that God is with us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4). There are many verses that talk about God meeting us where we are in the midst of our struggles. I don’t remember one about checking my baggage of grief at the door.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

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10 thoughts on “Caution: Cliche Ahead

  1. I love this. It’s like you know my heart. Losing a child is not something that we can throw under the rug and forget. And, I do not like the implications that I’m not a strong enough Christian since I can’t just leave my grief like it never happened. Well said!

  2. Beautifully said, Becky. As a mom who lost a son, I understand this journey too well. I think people we meet are just so uncomfortable with such a devastating subject that they try to lighten the mood. What they don’t realize is that we’re not expecting them to make it “okay”. Sometimes we just need them to say “I’m sorry” and offer an ear or a shoulder. Because there’s no way they’ll ever understand until they’ve been there.

    • I was just think about that – that people try to lighten the mood. Part of the cliche and “encouraging word” thing, I think, comes from a desire to part the dark clouds or to try to make something – anything – better. I’m sure people around grieving parents wish with all their hearts that they could do something to bring encouragement, to lighten the load, to bring some ray of sunshine into the darkness of grief. Without the background, education or personal experience of losing a child, they don’t know what to say. And that’s when the cliche or Bible verse comes up.

      I don’t envy those who are around grieving parents. It’s a difficult and uncomfortable place to be. However, I think there are many more resources now for people around grieving parents – more than when our son died – if only they wish to find them.

  3. Thank you Rebecca! Your post came just as I needed it. I’m grieving the loss of my 29 year old daughter who died almost 8 months ago. This grief and sorrow is so deep, so profound. Last night I heard how my own mother is telling people that I just haven’t accepted the fact that my daughter is now “in heaven,” as if that should provide all the comfort I need or as if that will make my daughter’s death okay, or even as if I shouldn’t be grieving. Her comments to others is not a surprise to me. But it does add to the list of things said to me by others that add additional pain to my vulnerable heart.

    I know my grief is uncomfortable for others. I wish I didn’t have to deal with my daughter’s death and the feelings about losing her. Our culture really fails in teaching people to handle real feelings and to provide genuine support. I do want to add that there have been others who have showed me great kindness and support. I know it has been challenging for them, and I will forever be grateful for their kindness.

  4. Amen!! Here is another platitude: It is pretty easy from the cheap seats”.
    I just finished another post and edited out the struggle I am having with my faith because no matter how strong my my faith is — it doesn’t cancel or even assuage my pain.

  5. A friend, trying to look on the “bright side” the other day, said to me that at least I still have a daughter. I felt so distraught about this comment, that I haven’t been able to face her since.

    I want to tell her that children are not interchangeable generic possessions. I am not a generic parent, I was a mother to my daughter and my son, Graham. Without him, everything has changed and diminished. My heart is broken. I cannot console myself that I have a daughter. I love her and I am thankful that she is alive and well, but she is not my son. Each child is so unique and can never be replaced and it’s very hurtful for people to think that the existence of other children can compensate for the loss of a child.

    Somehow, that trivializes my son’s life and my love for him, just as quoting cliches and tired verses minimizes the depth of our love and our losses.

  6. Thank you Rebecca for this post. I often find comfort in King David’s Psalms. He experienced deep, intense grief, even questioning why God had forsaken him. Even though He would then acknowledge that God is faithful, loving, and sovereign, he still did not deny his feelings and struggles. Like you said, you can’t put a “Hello Kitty band-aid on a huge, gaping wound.”

  7. I hear you, Rebecca, and all the others. People want to “fix” your pain so you’ll feel better and they can feel better too. Only, grief cannot be fixed. You move forward by placing one foot in front of the other, but you never move on. I interviewed Ginny Brock, a mom who lost her 26-year-old son. Her book is “By Morning’s Light: The True Story of a Mother’s Reconnection with her Son in the Hereafter.” If you’re interested, the interview is at http://umagirish.com/2013/11/05/a-mother-reconnects-with-her-deceased-son/

  8. I never realized how hard it is to even understand the concept of death until experiencing the loss of my loved one, much less experiencing the deep grief that it brings. On one hand, death is easily explained. But on a much deeper level – death is incomprehensible. And I truly believe we were never meant to experience it. We were never meant to be in a position that required our understanding of it. So we are ill equipped, to say the least, in having to deal with the death of our loved ones. It scares the crap out of us – and many would like to have these easy answers and ways to bring us up out of the pit. It just isn’t that easy.

  9. Very true… what a strange thing to say- check your grief as baggage, put it in a box and give it to God. God created our amazing children and He takes care of them now… if grieving them could be easy He could have created grief as a fast, simple and painfree journey… but we lost amazing people, and He knows what we need to do to get through it, Who we need to lean on and Know… there is no box that could hold my loss… no box. There is no giving it to God to make it easy… just leaning on Him and letting Him help you…

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