Mar 242016 17 Responses

Lies We Tell Others About Death

It’s understandable. When grief is deep and sorrow surrounds us, we want to comfort others. So we lie to them. We don’t mean to lie. But in our attempts to ease the pain of others, we often tell untruths to those who are grieving.

As a pastor, I have one rule at funerals–don’t lie. It’s not an easy rule to keep. It would be far simpler in the moment to make things up, pretend as though the deceased was perfect, and to simply tell people what they want to hear. But I can’t.

I don’t have to tell everything, but I do have to tell the truth. Sadly, others do not hold to the same ideal. On many occasions, I have stood beside a grieving family as well-meaning friends and family have lied straight to their face. (See: Always Attend the Funeral)

Here are six common lies people tell those who are grieving.

Common Lies

1. They are now an angel. No they aren’t. While it sounds like a lovely thought, it isn’t true. The Christian message is not that human beings become angels after we die.

2. God needed them more than we did. No he didn’t. Death is confusing to us all. Especially to people of faith, it is hard to understand why God allows death. However, death is not a response to a need by God. He has no needs.

3. They are in a better place. This is true in some cases, but not nearly as often as I hear it. It’s interesting how many people reject the Christian message in life, but want to quote its promises in death.

4. You’ll be fine. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. “You’ll be fine” is something we say when a child scrapes a knee; it is not something which should be said when a person faces unbearable grief. To use a trite phrase in that moment is unloving.

5. Time will heal. Time does change things, but it doesn’t necessarily heal things. Time gives an opportunity for healing, but healing only happens as we process our emotions, learn coping skills, and do the work necessary to heal. Time itself does very little; working through one’s grief can do a great deal.

6. At least…. (you were there with him, you had her for this long, you had a wife/husband/parent/child, etc). Any statement which begins with “at least” is insensitive. It is minimizing the person’s pain and shouldn’t be said.

Better Truths

Rather than lying to those who are hurting, there are some things we can say which are completely true. These truths may not feel as loving because they recognize rather than denying the person’s pain, but these truths are better than a lie. (See: Death Needs No Judgment)

1. I’m sorry. It’s simple and true. It recognizes the other person’s pain and communicates your sorrow.

2. I love you. This may be the best thing to say in a time of sorrow. It reminds the person of your affection for them even in a time of great pain.

3. I’m bringing you dinner (Or cutting your lawn or babysitting your kids). Actions are often better than words. Instead of asking “is there anything I can do,” tell the person what you are planning on doing. They can always tell you not to, but most of the time they will appreciate the effort.

4. I don’t know what to say. What is more honest than this? I deal with death on a weekly basis and I don’t know what to say. Why do we feel we have to pretend to be knowledgeable about it? We don’t.

Death is difficult. No one is an expert regarding death because we all deal with it in different ways. Don’t feel the pressure to say something perfect when talking with someone who is grieving. Simply live by this rule–don’t lie.

What is another lie you often hear in times of grief?

17 Responses to Lies We Tell Others About Death
  1. […] All of this has created a generation ignorant of death. Nowhere is that ignorance more apparent than... kevinathompson.com/children-death-learning-grieve

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