What Not to Say, What to Say

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It’s interesting to hear what people say or what we even say to ourselves when going through a crisis.  Many times we may be trying to make ourselves or others feel better, but does it really help?  Some of these things can be helpful. But is it possible that some things are not?  So if you’ve ever wondered what do I say in this situation,  keep reading!

Here are some things that are said that can come across as “off” in a crisis situation:

It’s all going to burn anyway…

Although this may seem like it is a comforting reminder, it really isn’t.  As we grieve the sentimental pieces of our life story, of our community, of our childhood history, saying it’s all going to burn anywayactually feels like a propulsion into deeper depression, and a hopelessness of why even have a story?  Why even create a home space?  This is probably not the intent, but this is what that message can lead towards.)

Well, at least you’re alive…

This is one I’ve heard myself saying, too.  And it is a TRUE fact!  So grateful for life!  But it also seems to negate the fact that there is still grief surrounding the things that are lost.  The pictures.  The childhood crafts.  The things that are not replaceable.  And it makes that grief feel less than, and like it shouldn’t be cried over because at least there is life still to be lived.  But it’s not an easy fix to suddenly feel “happy”.  There is still valid sadness to be expressed about things lost.  Because many of those things were the evidence of our lives lived.  And now that evidence is gone, except for in our memory.

This world is not our home…

This statement is so untrue, as my husband pointed out.  This world IS our home.  It was given to us by God at the Garden of Eden, and that we should take care of it and have pride in it, etc.  So when we lose a part of the purpose we were created for, to make a home, to settle and take care of the little place of the world we find ourselves and call home, we feel that loss, and that grief.  And then to be told that this world is not our home…well, yes it is!  And it will be again when the earth is made new after the Second Coming.  So it is ok to feel sadness at the loss of this Creation.

Everything happens for a reason…

This is a somewhat marred reaction of what appears to be encouragement.  Some things happen, and there is not a reason for it, other than a cause-and-effect reason.  Some things are just a result of living in a broken world, not because God is orchestrating some greater thing at the cost of our tragedies.  I believe God can bring something out of our brokenness, but this does not mean that He causes it.   He weeps with those that weep.

God works all things together for His glory…

This too is a true statement.  But c’mon, timing is everything.  When an entire town is pretty much wiped off the face of the earth in 12 hours by an inferno, the last thing anyone wants to hear is Well, God works all things together for His glory– as if He needed this catastrophe to occur in order to reveal His glory.  That’s just gross.

Now you have freedom to go anywhere in the world…

This is true, to some extent.  However, there may be complicated factors, such as jobs, or health care issues, or physical limitations.  There may be the emotional ties to the region which makes it hard for someone to just pick up and move.  This, too, needs to be grieved.

Then there are some phrases that have been helpful in the midst of this tragedy.  Here are some the most helpful things I’ve heard that are said and unsaid:

I’m so sorry…

Enough said.  So am I.  This simple phrase carries so much comfort with it, as it states and acknowledges the fact that this new reality is not the way things are supposed to be.  This new reality is not normal and it is grieved by more than just the ones facing it.

I don’t know what to say…

I love this one, because it’s so honest and so open and tends to have a feeling of holding the space with all of us.  Because frankly, we don’t know what to say, either.  So you are automatically entering into our grief with us.

What do you need?…

Many times we don’t know what we need just yet, but just the question gives permission to express what we are feeling and experiencing, and in so doing, it reminds us of the fact that we are still empowered individuals that are currently in a powerless situation.  But that question reminds us that we have a little bit of power left:  the power to express ourselves and the power of our friends and neighbors who have our back.

How can I help?

This simple question shows that you care, and although most won’t take you up on how you can help, that question speaks volumes that you are aware that this situation is beyond comprehension, and that you want to be present in the midst of this disaster.

I can’t imagine…

This is a powerful statement, because none of us could have imagined this would happen four weeks ago with the Paradise Camp Fire.  So this statement shows that you get it, and that you are not trying to sweep the devastation under the rug, but that you are willing to sit with us in the ashes.

How are you doing?

This question is a wild card, as it can be good or bad: it’s all in how it is asked.  This question is maybe good for later, like maybe a couple months down the road when most people have their feet under them.  This question is not a bad one, but it is used all the time in everyday life, and so then to ask it in regards to a catastrophic event, the person getting asked doesn’t really know how to answer in a short response.  People a lot of times don’t really know how they are doing to give a good answer, so if the person asking it genuinely wants to know, it can be an excellent question to help walk us through our emotions, or just be present to what we are feeling without giving a spiritual cliche band-aid response.

Give a Hug

Someone the other day just came up and gave me a hug.  That’s it.  They said something else, like I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here… That was enough.  That was powerful and acknowledged exactly what I needed at the time.  It didn’t ask for any details to be repeated, nor did it try to “fix” my experience with spiritual flowery words.  It was presence in my day.  It was simple, yet so powerful.

What have you found to be helpful or not so helpful in your crisis situation?

As we all continue to navigate the different catastrophes we find ourselves in, as we all continue to walk thru the valley of the shadow of death, may we be present to each other.  May we hold the space for ourselves, as well as with each other, giving each other and ourselves permission to grieve.  May we not take a “spiritual bypass” around the sacred walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  May we remember that it is in that valley that we encounter true healing and meet the Presence of the One Who has and will walk through that valley with us.  May we not be afraid to grieve and to hold the space for those around us as they grieve. May we remember that there is incredible power in grieving, and it can be one of the most sacred spaces to find yourself or others in.

Krystalynn Martin is vice principal for spiritual life at Auburn Adventist Academy in Washington