Two weeks ago I asked a question via my Facebook page: “In your opinion, what is the worst cliche used for grief and loss?”
People hate clichés, so they were happy to chime in on the flippant things people said to them in their worst moments.
I’ve had nearly all of these thrown at me in a funeral receiving line, all except the ones that pertain to loss of a child, a unique grief which I haven’t walked through.
I’ve spent the past few weeks going over these in my head, turning them over in my heart and I’ve come to realize that there are two central themes running through every one
1) Loss isn’t that bad and it will all be better soon, this isn’t really that hard.
2) God is the source of your loss, he willed it for the good of all.
I find that every grief cliche has one or both of these going on.
Often those who come bearing these cliches also come armed with scripture that makes us wonder, “wait, are they right? Is the way I’m feeling completely invalid? Is God up there sending the worst into my life like a parent doling out punishment?”
This practice is called proof texting, it’s what people do when they want to say something and they want it to be biblical, so they find a verse that backs up their thoughts and ignore the context completely.
And the google gods have just made this even easier to do…
Proof texting has backed up slavery, racism, gender inequality, corporal punishment and pretty much all of these awful cliches. So when you hear a verse that seems completely incompatible from what you know to be true of the Gospels and the love of God, dismiss it until you’ve had time to look into the context itself.
For now, let’s blow up some clichés, yes?
1) We’re not having a funeral, we’re having a celebration– Asking grieving people to celebrate is patently unfair. Loss it’s hard, it’s part of the fall, minimizing it isn’t something Jesus did so perhaps we shouldn’t either. God loves his people, but he hates death, hates it. Sent his son to make it go away forever in fact.
2) God needed another angel – This one is ridiculous on every theological level imaginable. Shall we break them down really quick? 1) people don’t become angels when they die, two different things. 2) God doesn’t exist in time so God doesn’t ever “need us” up in heaven, he wants us, but he doesn’t need us there at any certain time.
3) God wants to make you stronger through this – Stronger? Like God’s taking my people away like a body builder adds weights? Grief doesn’t make you stronger or more impervious to pain. It tenderizes, breaks your heart and leaves it partly broken, it wounds and leaves you living but limping. This brings you closer to God not closer to strength and independence.
4) Be strong, you’ll get through this just fine! – Again with the strong. Nose to the grindstone! Grieve well, grieve hard and you’ll be fine by next Tuesday! You know what I love about the Bible? How it talks about our weaknesses as acceptable, as our best shot at falling in Love with a God who wants to sustain us moment to moment.
5) God never gives you more than you can handle (the most hated and discussed cliché) I still remember the first time I realized that this wasn’t in the bible. So many people think this is scripture, it’s not. This is a twisting of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” The context of this verse is a letter to the church of Corinth encouraging them to take a look at the history of the people of Israel to find a common thread for their own struggles. All this to say this verse was never, ever, ever written as a means to minimize loss or pain. It’s not true. We get more than we can handle all the time, in fact we were never intended to handle it in on our own in the first place.
6) Everything happens for a reason The more I live, the less black and white it all is. I believe that God gives and takes away but I don’t understand what that looks like from God’s end of things. I’m too mature to believe that God is hands off with death, but I also believe that God grieves with us and that this is no trite thing.
7) Well, you know he was “saved” right? Whether or not someone is in heaven is comforting, but it never makes death easy. Death is a permanent tearing away and it hurts no. matter. what. Paul (who had been to heaven at this point) described death as sorrow upon sorrow, wave upon wave of pain when we are torn apart from those we love with no other options. Paul had seen heaven, and he still grieved death. He’d been there and he still described losing people to it as repetitive, crashing pain.
8) All part of God’s plan We don’t understand God’s plan, at least I don’t. I know that there are two forces at work in the world right now and one of them is evil. It is never, ever, ever helpful to tell someone that the God they are clinging to is the one who inflicted their wounds for the greater good. It’s not good theology and it’s a terribly unhelpful at a funeral, I worry that those doing it are driving people away from the God they deeply need in the moment.
9) You shouldn’t be attached to the body, it’s just a shell, they’re not there anymore. I’ve heard this one a lot, too much. It pissed me off every time. As humans we’re allowed to be attached to objects, homes, wedding rings, photos…. but when it comes to the bodies of our loved ones we’re supposed to be completely detached. The body is the way we saw the soul on this earth, we’re allowed to be a little attached. It’s hard to put those bodies in the ground and walk away. Don’t forget this.
10) At least you’re young enough that you can have another child OR remarry “Makes it sound like you can go to the store and get a new one to replace the one you’ve lost.” Are any of the people in your life interchangeable? Expendable? Replaceable? Then neither are other people’s. If we say that God creates us all unique and that all life is precious than grieving the loss of any life, no matter the gestation or age, is completely justified.
11) Well at least it was early in the pregnancy so you weren’t that attached. I haven’t miscarried so I don’t pretend to understand that pain. But I do understand the pain of hope that doesn’t come to completion and I understand the heaviness of grieving “what didn’t happen.” I understand that my parents were supposed to be grandparents and likewise those babies were supposed to be born full term, to nurse, babble, walk, graduate and fall in love. Life is precious. We are attached.
12) It was just their time to go. This reduces people to timers, there is no comfort in telling someone that their loved one’s clock ran out. Our lives play out in complex ways and the manner of death is sometimes so shocking that it’s nearly impossible to believe that when God planned this life, he planned this ending. I’ve sat in front of caskets and wondered: “Is this really how it ends, God? When you sent a baby, did you know this was how it ended?”
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.