Have you ever wondered what to say when someone has just experienced the death of a loved one? I’m not even sure what I would want someone to say to me, but here are some well-worn lines that often come to mind when words elude me:
- I’m holding you in my thoughts and prayers.
- We’re praying for you at this time of great sadness.
- I’m so sorry for your loss.
Worn out phrases, but heartfelt, I promise!
That leads me to wonder; just how do the ones left behind express their experience to others? How can they begin to capture and describe the life-changing event?
- My daughter passed away…
- My mother went to be with the Lord after a long battler with cancer…
- I lost my husband last year…
I once heard a well-meaning pastor give his analysis of that last phrase. His response to a widow who used that very expression was, “Oh, did you misplace him? He isn’t lost! He has gone on ahead of you, but he isn’t lost if he knew Jesus.”
He explained how we ought to avoid expressions that refer to death as a loss, and instead we should look for alternatives to express our sympathy.
An attempt at lightheartedness, I guess. No malice intended whatsoever. But…
I’ve thought about this often. He meant well, but I have to wholeheartedly disagree. After watching several close friends and family go through the painful process of outliving a loved one, I can’t think of a better thing to say.
I’m an outsider looking in. So, I could be completely off-kilter with my observations. However, death is a loss. Yes, I have hope knowing the truth of what the Bible says about eternal life. I know exactly where Jesus-followers go after they die. Of course, they aren’t misplaced.
But for the ones left behind, it’s still a loss.
Death is a loss of communication. It’s the end of conversations and tender words.
It’s the loss of daily phone calls to mothers and sisters, and friends. Fathers, brothers, and sons.
It’s the loss of dishes done side-by-side and glances across steaming coffee cups and warm apple crisp.
It’s the loss of mundane banter about weather and politics, newspaper articles, and reality TV shows.
It’s the loss of potential resolution for tangled up relationships and harsh words.
It’s the loss of possible restitution and redemption. For wrongs to be righted. For restoration.
For many it’s the loss of the other half. The part so entwined with our own selves we can’t tell where one begins and the other leaves off.
It’s the loss of future road trips, laughter, and family reunions.
The absence of knowing smiles.
The loss of plans.
It is a loss.
Let’s call it like it is. When someone dies, we suffer a terrible loss. But in the midst of it, we have great hope. And that calm assurance is what makes the loss bearable.
It’s what makes it possible to smile even when everything is shaken. When hearts are broken. When we’re torn up inside.
In the midst of the great emptiness of loss, there is also great possibility. For it is when we are the most empty we have room for God’s love and hope to fill the void.
If you’ve lost someone dear to you, I can’t begin to fully understand. I’m guessing you don’t understand it all either. I care. I might not say the right things at all. But please know my heart breaks for you as you discover new losses each day. I’m so sorry for your loss.