‘Sorry for your loss’ the Funeral guy said, as he shook my hand on the way out of the house to take Sue to the Funeral home (is that what they call it?). I couldn’t watch them take her. When he said that to me, I thought ‘is that it?’. It made me think of the typical ‘Cop Show’ or in a film where they have to tell the bereaved ‘sorry for your loss’. I don’t want to be cynical, really I don’t. I couldn’t see into the man’s heart so I just accept his sincere condolences – in a kind of numbed way. I suppose it’s an inoffensive phrase that no-one will object to. As a professional he has to say something. He’s at the cutting edge when people are most vulnerable to hurt and upset. It’s a short phrase that doesn’t prolong the visit. It just wouldn’t be appropriate to engage in a long conversation. I certainly didn’t want one. So I guess it did the job. ‘Sorry for your loss’ – Short and inoffensive. Then I’m back to feeling just numbed.
So, I’m in Church on a Sunday evening and a young man comes to me and says ‘so sorry for your loss’. He’s a Christian. I’m a bit taken aback. I remember when they came to collect Sue. I accept his condolences, as you do. Again, I accept the sincerity of it. He did come and speak to me and I appreciated that. So I’m not having a go at anyone. But it made me think: shouldn’t we as believers be able to say more than that. I include myself. Is that the best we can do? I mentioned it to someone else and they said ‘it’s because they don’t know what to say’. I understand that. But surely if we really do have the Hope we say we have isn’t there something else we can say. Is saying to a fellow believer, no matter how sincere and well intentioned, ‘sorry for your loss’ even a Biblical thing to say?
It’s so easy to unintentionally give offence or cause upset. I confess, I’m hyper sensitive at the moment and no more so than when they came to collect Sue – just numbed would be more accurate. So we resort to these clichéd phrases that ‘do the job’ and ‘get us off the hook’. Phew, I said ‘something’.
Again, I’m in conversation with someone; they said when talking to a believer whose wife had just died – I cut in and said ‘I do hope you didn’t say ‘sorry for your loss’. They did. But with the comment that it’s only an opening gambit that leads to further conversation. Well, maybe. But the bereaved man said ‘I haven’t lost my wife, I know exactly where she is!’ Nice reply. And true.
On the other hand, if we are going to use the phrase, we ought to be aware of what it is we are saying. Even if the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’ isn’t used we still need to be aware that the bereaved believer has suffered a catastrophic loss. And so have those that were closest to them, not least of which is the children and very special friends. What is marriage but the complete intertwining of two lives. When the Bible says the two become one, it isn’t an exaggeration, it isn’t using hyperbole. It’s tangible, real, deep and profound. So deep in fact that Paul says ‘I am talking about Christ and the Church – deep indeed. I’ll have more to say on this another time. But I write this for now so we have an inkling of what it is we are saying if we choose to use the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’.
Having your wife, your best friend, die is about the worst thing that can happen to someone and it’s probably impossible to know what to say in each situation as we are all so very different. So, ‘Sorry for your loss’ gets round that. Rather than just be cynical or critical I’d like to offer some alternatives. We have a whole Bible to use plus 2000 years of Church history and so many wonderful hymns to draw from. My plea is that we can surely do better.
You might be able to tell, but most of this post has been in my ‘Draft’ folder for a few weeks now. But I recently read an article that confirms and supports my contention that we can do better when it comes to speaking to the bereaved believer. The article is ‘The fat lady is already singing‘ by Gary Brady and is available in the Evangelical Magazine on-line HERE. In case you read this Gary – thanks again.
Please be aware they will mostly just be completely numbed. Also remember that unless you have had a similar shattering providence you won’t understand – you are unlikely to understand. So don’t say you do because you most likely won’t. If you really don’t know what to say and the grieving believer is not that well-known to you, may I suggest two options:
- Simply send a card (or a text) and say ‘I/we are praying that you will know the consolations of the Gospel’. Put a good Gospel verse in the card. The bereaved believer can read it at their own convenience and will really appreciate the kindness. They may well come up to you and thank you for the card. They might not, but be assured it will have helped, especially if you do remember them in prayer.
- You don’t know what to say. Well, the bereaved believer often doesn’t know what to say back either. So it’s helpful to take the pressure off and say something like: ‘I don’t know what to say but I/we are praying that you will know the grace of God in upholding you’. Be brief and don’t expect or wait for a reply. Be thankful that they will appreciate your kindness – and especially your prayers. No need to make a commitment to them. But do pray for them at least once.
Of course you don’t have to say anything at all. You don’t have to send a card either. Your Amen at the prayer meeting or your Amen during the prayer on Sunday is equally precious. I hope and pray this post will get us thinking. It has made me think. What will I say to the bereaved spouse whose world has just collapsed. A number of cards sent to me do have ‘sorry for your loss’ in them with other helpful words. I have appreciated them all very much. It’s too painful at the moment but in time I hope to read through them again. All I’m saying is that with the Unsearchable Riches we have in Christ we can and should do much better.