Ben Witherington recently lost his daughter who unexpectedly died of pulmonary embolism at the age of 32. She was found dead in her home in Durham, North Carolina, on January 11. On his blog, he shared his thought on how to deal with such devastating experience with a "good grief." You can read it here. What I find particularly insightful is his thought on "things not to say to the grieving." I've copied what he wrote below. The original posting can be found here.
When a person suffers the devastating loss of a loved one, you should — however well-intentioned you might be — keep your mouth shut. Or at the very least, you should think long and hard before you say anything. Here are some of the things I recently heard that did not help, and frankly were not true.
- “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” Not a saying from God, rather it’s from the poorly-informed Job, who was later forced to revise his opinion. As it happens, it was Satan who devastated Job’s life and family.
- “You’ll get over it soon.” Wrong. I hope I never get over the loss of my daughter. I don’t want to forget her love, her smile, her joys, her sorrows, and so many millions of other things that formed the sum total of her life. I do not intend to get over it. I intend to get beyond it by the grace of God, but in no way forgetting what happened to her at the end of her life in this world. There will always be a Christy-shaped hole in my heart. Period.
- “Sorry about your lost loved one.” This is well meant, of course, but bad theology. Christy is not lost. I know right where to find her. She is safe in the arms of Jesus. One of our good Christian friends shared this experience with me from her charismatic prayer time, this week: “The Holy Spirit came upon the prayer so mightily. My heart is not heavy, like it was before that prayer, and the witness the precious Holy Spirit gave us was that Christy truly has made it home. I know she is home, but the prayer made it very real to us.” Exactly right. She has gone before us, but she is not a lost loved one wandering in oblivion. She is a found loved one who has found her home in Christ.
- “Well, at least you still have your son.” I am indeed very thankful our son and our Russian daughter are alive and well, but I don’t believe in compensatory theology. Having other children does not make the loss of Christy any less hard to bear. Each life is different, unique, special, and one life does not compensate for the loss of another. As John Donne says, “Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind.” All the more so when it’s a member of my own family.
- “God will make up for this with a twofold blessing.” Again, I don’t think God is a practitioner of some sort of new math or compensatory calculus, running the universe. God has not been a naughty boy taking away my sweet-pea named Christy, and he has nothing to make up for. I certainly do believe God works everything together for good, for those who love him.
So I leave myself open to such working, trusting it will make me better, not bitter.