I am not nor have I ever been a fan of platitudes or cliches – those short, little sayings that are supposed to convey something meaningful. You know the ones – like the one to the left here, or “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” They are meant to be inspirational, I’m sure, but I find them to be conversation-stopping, bumper sticker-style statements of little value and no sense. For example, what exactly does “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it” mean? I don’t see myself as strong. And as for being “given this life” because I’m “strong enough to live it,” I live this life because it’s the only one I have. It makes no sense to me.
I think every parent who has lost a child has heard his or her fair share of these types of things. Platitudes and cliches are some of the least helpful – and possibly very hurtful – things a bereaved parent can hear. I understand that people don’t know what to say, so they resort to cliches. As Leeann Penny says in her post entitled 12 Grief Cliches and the reasons they suck, “Clichés are human attempts to make the hugeness of life and death easy to manage and understand. This cannot be done, it hurts more than it helps. The phrases are something that people who “don’t get it” say in attempt to make it all better, to put a magical bandaid on it and reduce the raw awkwardness. They usually come to us with good intentions. As a society we aren’t all that comfortable with pain in progress, we like a bow, we like a quick happy ending. We need to get over that.”
Today, a friend shared a Facebook post by Max Lucado:
For those of you who may be mourning and grieving true loss this week, I first want to say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for this very real pain. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know but I can remind you of something.
In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better. And—this is important—though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies. While we are shaking heads in disbelief, they are lifting hands in worship. While we are mourning at a grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are questioning God, they are praising God.
“In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely.”
Here is the response I posted:
Tomorrow is our son’s birthday. He would have been 35 years old. He and his best friend died instantly when a drunk driver broadsided them on March 3, 2002. 19 years old – the best son, brother, friend anyone could ever ask for. Kind, funny, smart, beautiful blue eyes, great hugs and beautiful smiles. The best. Absolute best.
There’s so much I could say about what we walked through after Jason died, but I am not sure it would be fully comprehended except by those who have walked a similar path and would fall on deaf ears for others. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jason is with God, with my parents, with the baby we lost, with his best friend and all those who have gone before. I know that we will one day see him again in that land where there will be no more death, tears, mourning, crying or pain.
Jason’s death, though, affected me so much more and on such a deeper level than the deaths of my parents. When we had to put my dad in a nursing home, it was such an incredibly difficult thing to watch this strong, independent man in such circumstances. I literally prayed God would take him home. Dad was ready to go, wanted to go. My mom’s death was not unexpected, and we had a wonderful day with her the day she died. “Timely,” I guess one would say.
One never thinks the death of their child is “timely,” though, or that their child has lived long enough and was supposed to die in that moment in time. To say that I have struggled with my faith and in reconciling what I believed as a Christian with the death of our son at the age of 19 would be an understatement. I had believed that “the fervent prayer” availed much. I prayed and prayed and prayed for our kids, for their friends, for their lives, for their future spouses, for their protection, for my family. I woke up at 3 a.m. most days, got up out of bed, went downstairs and fervently prayed for my family. I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would protect our children. Until He didn’t, and Jason died.
It didn’t help (and, as a matter of fact, caused a lot of damage) that nearly everyone we knew disappeared. Our closest family lived more than 2000 miles away and, once they had to go home, I guess we had an expectation that our church and homeschool “family” and friends would be there for us. That didn’t happen. In retrospect, I’m not sure how realstic those expectations were; most of them were dealing with the deaths of their friends, too. Nevertheless, never have I felt more like a pariah in my life than I did after Jason died. I felt like I was falling down a black hole and there was no one to stop my fall. I remember begging God to send someone – anyone – to apply a salve of kindness to my broken heart and to the rest of my family’s hearts and lives. I truly, truly understand that most people didn’t know what to do or say or were dealing with their own losses, but it was a very difficult and lonely time for us.
I struggle, especially concerning the death of a child, with the whole “God must have a greater purpose” or “It was God’s will” attitude concerning death that Christians sometimes tend to adopt. While others may find comfort in being told, “In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely,” I must admit that I don’t find comfort at all in it. At times, I think these types of platitudes help the person saying them more than the person hearing them. In essence, I think the person hearing it can hear condemnation or judgment at not “accepting” the death of their loved one as “God’s will” rather than as an encouragement. It’s interpreted as “encouragement” to move on, and that can be very hurtful. I also would venture to say that most parents who have lost a child are very good at putting on a mask so that others don’t see how deep their grief truly is and so that they are not judged for how deeply or how long they grieve. Very early on, I felt like I had to hide the depth of my grief to make it palatable in order for others to even want to be around me. I felt like my choice was to mask my grief or else I would be alone or judged.
As far as teaching something in the Christian community, I would rather see encouragement for people to “weep with those who weep” rather than encouraging the bereaved to accept the death of their loved one as God’s will and to move on. I feel like the empathetic teaching of truly supporting – and continuing to support – those walking through deep grief is sadly lacking. The bereaved don’t need someone to try to fix them or encourage them to accept or move on; they just need someone willing to be present, to listen and to care.
Just my two cents…
© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney
Kudos to you for posting your eloquent response. I agree with you 100%. After Matthew died my mother in law gave me a book by Max Lucado and pretty much everything he writes makes me want to vomit…
I hesitated responding to an internationally known author. Don’t know if he will even see it, but I just can’t let this narrative go by that puts the burden of responsibility and guilt on the grieving to accept and move on. It’s just backwards! I’m sure some people feel like it’s a sour grapes response, but I’m just really tired of this narrative.
I got a good chuckle out of your “makes me want to vomit” statement.
Hugs to you, Christine. Thanks for writing.
I’ll add 2 more cents to that one, Rebecca. (((HUGS))) “Grief does not demand pity, it requests acknowledgement” from my article: ‘Acknowledgement’. I even had bumper stickers made with that statement. Sadly, it is us who grieve who carry the add’l burden to inform. The Churches, especially, need to steer away from this ‘Happy, Happy – Joy, Joy’ positive thinking mentality and preaching which is nothing more than ‘new-agism’ with different wrapping paper and GET REAL! Jesus was NOT jumping for joy in the Garden of Gethsemane nor was He smiling as He hung on the Cross! (((((((HUGS)))))))
Yes, I remember thinking that, too – that it seemed odd that we, the parents whose child died, had to tell people how to help us. I think there is more information available now than when Jason died, if only people take the time to find it.
Thank you for writing.
I’m in the thick of the loneliness and feelings of abandonment by friends and family. And I hear consistent messages at church that bruise my heart so much. It’s so so hard. Thank you for sharing the truth of us broken-hearted mamas.
Oh, Katy, I’m so sorry. I could never understand how people who are supposed to be physical manifestations of the hands and feet of God on this earth could just disappear when we needed them the most. We are all human, I know, but it was hard. Hugs…
Well said 💔
So beautifully put Becky. I found the only helpful words were from people who had lost children and some wrote about their journey. My dear Mum died the day after I got home from our search for Danielle overseas. She was a regular church goer, but 12 years on I have never had a visit from the clergy so I have been spared the platitudes. On my first, and only,visit to a therapist she told she was pleased HER daughter had arrived back to Australia safely. Helpful?? People say stupid things. Much love, Janice xx
Here’s a good article that I share from time to time: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/yes-god-will-give-you-more-you-can-handle
I agree with you, Janice. After Jason died, I read a lot of books on grief. After a while, I realized that the ones that truly spoke to me were written specifically by people who had lost a child. Not that the others didn’t have anything worthwhile on the subject, but it wasn’t really written from a perspective of walking the same walk I was walking. Also, I started to look at how long after their child died the parent(s) wrote the book. I found that the perspective of time gave a more balanced approach to the message.
Two Australians…. Ingrid Poulson (Rise) and John Little (Jem) are two of my favourite authors who wrote of losing their children. I wrote to John after reading his book as it gave me hope and received an uplifting response. Happy to forward these books if not available in the US. Much love, Janice xx
Thank you, Janice. I’ll look to see if I can find these authors. If not, I’ll let you know.
Right after Jeff died, I told a friend that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” She stopped, held my arm and told me, ” That is such BS. God never said that. I hate that saying.”
After 2 years I think I am learning that God gives us the tools to grieve, faith that I will see my son again, knowledge that he is safe. Not a day goes by that I’m now aware of the hole in my heart, that I feel incomplete.
You’re right, only another parent who has lost a child can truly understand our grief.
Wise friend that you have. I think there are cliches we have heard so much that there are assumed to be “of God,” when nothing could be farther from the truth.
Hugs to you, too.
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