Avoid the Trite Response

Empty Bowl SadnessThe text message read, “…the guys are saying he killed himself yesterday. I can’t believe it.”

I only saw this an hour later as the second text arrives, “look on the internet see if you can find anything. {name} {city} suicide last night.”

My heart dropped in my stomach at reading my husband’s texts to me. This was one of his good golf buddies. The one who always cheered him up. The one that wore bright pink pants and a goofy hats.

It was bad…so bad. As the news filters in and funeral arrangements are made his life is gone too fast. It’s all happening too fast. He’s gone. He won’t face whatever was hurting so terribly bad. For him it is cooled. Gone. But for everyone else the simmer has begun. And it’s turning to a boil.

Because everyone is asking why. And what could I have done? And why didn’t he call me?

I silently sit, watching the wave of emotion wash over my husband’s face. I see the confusion in his eyes. And I know better than to say anything trite. I wait for him to speak. As he starts thinking out loud I stop him, “Don’t go there hon.”

“Huh, what do you mean?”

I ask, “Are you going there?”

“Going where?” he says.

Carefully I ask, “Are you picturing the last moments? Are you trying to figure out how he got there? And what those last minutes were like.”

He’s quiet and nods yes.

“Oh hon, don’t. Don’t go there. Not one bit of good will come of that. I’m so sorry, there just aren’t answers that will make it okay.”

And he asks what should he think about. And I have nothing. Because I’m not that girl that offers “trite.” I’ve been the receiver of “trite” one too many times.

He’s in a better place.

God has a better path in store.

You’ll be okay.

Call me if you need anything. (Really? Anything?  You can wholeheartedly offer that—if so you rock —you rock way more than I ever will)

The results will be fine. You’ll see.

God will protect you (your son, your home, your business, etc…).

Oh there’s a better job out there for you.

Classic examples of what not to say… and as the receipient of such comments I’ve learned (and trained myself) to NOT say any of these things. Because I can’t say them with any certainty. And truthfully, nor can anyone else. And truth be told, as I’ve talked to many and examined my own emotions–these words to the suffering are not as comforting as you might think.

The first time I really voiced my opinion about such things, a friend shot me down and said that I should give more grace because the “trite” messenger doesn’t know what to say. They are only offering words that help them feel better.

And for the life of me I couldn’t stop repeating her words in my head— “so they will feel better.” And I thought BINGO! that’s the problem—the messenger is trying to make themselves feel better. Why?

Why. Because we want to be helpful to the seemingly helpless.

Why. Because we think we are offering a perspective they can’t see.

Why. Because silent presence with the hurting is too uncomfortable for us.

But the truth is, sometimes uncomfortable is the best place to go. It’s often where we HAVE to go. Sometimes all we can (and should) offer is an “I’m so sorry. I love you. I’m on your side.” BUT ALSO, because sometimes nothing can be said to make anyone feel better in tragic heart-hurting fearful moments.

So yeah, sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all. Sometimes the very best thing to offer is an extended hug or just sitting with the hurting. Just sitting. Of course this is hard in an email—Facebook—text messaging world.

I hope this isn’t trite…but there are so many ways to show heartfelt caring when you can’t sit or hug the hurting. And if you want to avoid a trite response with zero emotion on the screen, here are a just couple proven ways to show your genuine-care:

An internet hug. Insert the person’s name in braces. The more braces the bigger and stronger the hug. {{{{Sherry}}}}

A heart. It’s become the universal “I care” symbol. On Facebook you type ❤ and when you post the response it turns into a little ♥. On Twitter you’ll simply see “ ❤  “ .

A simple “I’m so sorry” really means a lot. And if you’re the prayer offering type—then offer a “P” prayer.

This could be an entire post, but to keep it short and simple—some of the best prayers you can offer to the hurting, discouraged, and suffering are “P” prayers.

Prayers are a tricky thing, and even more so when you tell someone you are praying for them. But I’ve found I feel right with God’s will and with the other person when I use a “P” prayer. It’s asking these things that start with a P

      • Peace
      • Protection
      • Patience
      • Perseverance
      • Positive Outcome
      • Provision/Providing.

Not only do I practice “P” prayers for myself, but I do for others too. And, not as if God needs my permission to act on His will as He sees best—but my “P” prayers seem to fit within what I really and truly feel beats to the compassion of God’s grace and mercy. I’ve even discovered that “P” prayers are easily accepted by friends that don’t share my faith. Nothing about those offerings feels fake or “impossible.”

Sometimes the best thing to do is to DO SOMETHING. And don’t ask.

If during some of my hardest moments someone just showed up, unannounced, with baked lasagna, I would have cried wept in gratitude. But had I been asked if I needed a meal… I would have said no. This is how most of the hurting act. We try to maintain a sense of pride when our hurting feels so public and “naked.” So “do” for them, and make it easy by not asking.

Deliver home-baked cookies. Mow their law. Send a gas-card. Have Merry-Maids arrive. Do something. Don’t ask.

When bad stuff happens, sometimes the best we can do is just be with and pray from the depths of our hearts—especially when we don’t know what else to do. And if you can offer something to take away one’s trouble or stress—even for the moment—then do it without asking or strings attached.

This last week, I haven’t prayed that my husband won’t hurt. I know that hurting has an important role in our lives. But I can, and do, pray for peace to settle in, to endure the hurt with patience. And I can make sure the cookie-jar is full, make a favorite meal, and be available…in whatever way that looks.
Sherry Meneley Soiled Wings
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21 thoughts on “Avoid the Trite Response

  1. Holding you and your family in God’s care during this long journey……

  2. I SO agree with this post. I hate the trite responses! And some of the worst (in my experience) is when someones quotes a scripture that somehow in the moment makes light of my pain. Or they remind me of the blessings that come out of difficult times. At the moment of my intense pain, I often just need a hug, someone to cry with me, or maybe a friend that will say NOTHING! [Like the song, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” Actually, (as you can probably tell) this is a sensitive subject to me–but my experiences have taught me to watch my trite words and cliches in my attempt to express my concern and/or sympathy. Thanks again, Sherry!

    • Karen – I couldn’t agree with you more. Those things you mention have also BOILED my blood when said during the dark nights of my soul. Very sensitive subject for me too. Thanks for reading and ‘gettin it’ ps: {{{{Karen}}}}

  3. Love this and so glad you put it in writing for those “trite answer” people! Another one I detest; “Everything happens for a reason.”
    Oh really?! People can honestly believe that pain and suffering from something horrific and violent was with reason? I am in the midst of my darkest storm and agree with The above that when people offer up a scripture that although true minimizes the very real torment I am experiencing. Just the other day I said, I am tired of all the unicorns, rainbows and gummi bears…things are just crap. The best responses I got were the two people who sent me silly pictures of unicorns stabbing bears with their horns (and one had a rainbow out of its bum). But those people, their responses meant the most because they got it. And the best part is when one of the above unicorn hating friends offers advice or words I believe her, because she is real with her responses, and that is so much easier to receive in the middle of my most intense suffering. Thanks again Sherry. You get it.

    • Oh Lindsay – first I absolutely love that very EXACT unicorn/bear picture. So I already think you are the bomb! And yeah, I’m just coming out of the worst 3 years of my life. (I say this with trepidation…I sure hope I’ve reach the end) It’s been long, hard, terrible – and when I thought it couldn’t get worse – – it did. And I grew livid with trite. I flipped out with Pollyannas. And grew super SUPER bitter. I built the wall of China around me (to keep me safe from Pollyannas and their vending machine faith that worked for them). It’s any wonder my faith is still intact.

      Anyhoo, Lindsay – what can I say except I’m genuinely sorry it sucks right now. I don’t know your circumstance – but I get that pain. It’s good to have a couple friends (or even just one) who gets it and treats you like a real person, who doesn’t treat you like your helpless or hopeless (even if we are), and knows when to show up with a stupid picture, or wine. {{{{{{Lindsay}}}}}}

  4. Our family endured nine deaths in a short period of time. I heard everything from, “You just need to buck up” to “Who are we to question God’s will?” and “I’m not sure it’s safe to be your friend” (several friends also died–all young, healthy friends.)

    Initially I was angry over the insensitive, harmful things people said to me. Angry enough to sever friendships.

    A few years have passed since that awful season. I’ve learned that people who’ve never experienced a great loss lack the words to be a comfort to those who have. But their silent companionship meant the world to me.

    I hope you and your husband receive the love and comfort you need as you grieve. I’m praying for you both.

    • Thanks Beth (for prayers). And I absolutely agree with what you said –> “I’ve learned that people who’ve never experienced a great loss lack the words to be a comfort to those who have.” I too have learned (after severed friendships) that those who still remain, while may say silly trite things haven’t experienced the depth of pain that I and others have. And because I love those few dearly – and because I’m out of the pit – I can see things a little more lightly and wrap grace around the senseless stuff they say.

      My truest hope is that this post might help even ONE person who hasn’t been through hell, yet has a friend who is.

      And of course offer kindred-ship to those who had it really bad.

  5. Haha thanks Sherry…I think we may in fact have the same unicorn hating friend 🙂
    And maybe because she has walked a very similar story to mine is why it’s easier to receive. Thanks again for your kind words and very real and honest writing.

    • …you might be right. Infact I think you are. Having no idea who you are – BUT if we are thinking of the same rockin-chick in the EDH area, then yeah – she gets it and has NEVER offered trite crap. I count her as one of the two people who have been through the bad and ugly – and say, do, be the right things for the hurting. SMALL WORLD (love that)

      • Yep that’s her…pretty wild. I think she was going to have us meet at some point as well. Funny how God makes things work.

    Walking through this last year has been Heaven & Hell. What has kept me going are the real people who just hear me & hear my heart and don’t try and fix anything or tell me don’t say that. I can scream, cuss, get ugly and know I am in a safe place with a select few. But please during that time keep the pollyannas away ’cause that would be where my rath would hit, and after the words feel worse because of what was said.
    I could go on & on with this, don’t give me advice unless you’ve taken the time to know me or unless I have asked.
    As this year has past it has also put into perspective how much I value touch and when I see someone else hurting I give love & hugs and if I hear of something I can do for them, than I do.
    I never realized what a valuable commodity time and touch were til I went through hell.

  7. I first read your post this morning in the DMV of all places, and wanting to avoid a “trite” response, I reflected on it and read it again this afternoon. I wish we were all born with sensitivity buttons. Unfortunately I have received the worst of trite responses and have even given them. When I suffered my first miscarriage, a woman at church said something like, “You will be okay, my sister had two (miscarriages). I sat horrifed at her response. I was desperately grieving and I wasn’t okay. And then there’s me sticking my foot in my mouth with the “Call me if you need anything?” My heart is sincere as is my desire to ease their pain. Thankfully, my friends know that I mean whatever I have that I can possibly give to help, I willingly give, even if it means just being present. I tend to favor asking specifically how I can help only because what they need is what they really need. One more chicken casserole, although greatly appreciated, is not the same as filling up the gas tank, or providing a much needed day away, etc. I remember the near loss of our 5th child and our children’s pastor came and read Psalm 34? over me. That was the best thing she could ever do. I clung to that hope until our Hope was born a few months later! Great advice Sherry!

    • You are so welcome Christine. “One more chicken casserole, although greatly appreciated, is not the same as filling up the gas tank, or providing a much needed day away, etc” <—-for sure, absolutely. {{{{Christine}}}}

  8. Sherry – You know I agree with almost everything in your post. We need lessons in how to grieve and how to help people we love grieve. I know as a pastor I’m often tempted to say “comforting words” when no words will bring comfort, because comfort has packed up and left the country.

    I love this quote from Henry Nouwen: “The friend who can be slient with us in a moment of depair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.”

    However, (and I’m being serious here), I think social media hugs, hearts, and other emoticons can be just as trite and empty of meaning. They’re just too easy.

    But, you know how I feel about all that. : )

    I’m glad Dan has a wife that doesn’t offer trite. I hope he has friends that can just sit with him.


    • Ron, you made a —> 😀
      Of course this makes me smile hugely.

      And yes, what you warn is 103% true, little bits like ❤ might be trite if there wasn't already a heartfelt authentic connection in existence.

  9. Several years ago, when my husband passed away suddenly at age 40, leaving me with three children to raise alone with no Dad, I do remember friends and aquaintances who may have offered “trite” responses, but I appreciated so much the fact that they reached out to offer their support, whether it was by writing a card or calling on the telephone. I realized that if their comments were trite, it was only because they didn’t really know what to say, but they were showing that they loved and cared for me. I think that we can extend grace and forgive the triteness of their comments, because we can see the motives behind it. Unfortunately, we are not taught how to respond to another’s grief…many people are uncomfortable with it and just don’t know what to say. I also had friends who never called or came by at all (also because they were uncomfortable), but I felt like they really didn’t care. Maybe the best response to someone who is grieving might be to say, “I’m so sorry”, put your arm around them and sit with them…just be there.

    • Terri – couldn’t agree with you more —> “Maybe the best response to someone who is grieving might be to say, “I’m so sorry”, put your arm around them and sit with them…just be there”

      Presence and ability to not try to solve the issue (which often can’t be solved) is some of the very best things to do. And yes, that “I’m so sorry” means so much. Thanks.

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