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Wednesday November 25, 2015

You've seen them—the "Never"-lists. Lists of things never to say. "Ten Things Never to Say to a Dog Owner" or "Five Things Never to Say to a Single Mom." The lists are endless. There are even "Never"-lists for grief: "Things Never to Say to Someone Who's Just Lost a Spouse/Child/Parent." Certainly, there is wisdom in these lists, and it’s important to think before we speak.

But "Never"-lists have a downside: There are so many things never to say, we can become afraid to say anything! We become paralyzed. Why? Because we’re afraid that if we say something on the "Never"-list, then we've committed the Ultimate Fail. We will live in shame forever, and the relationship will be over. This is especially true when we consider saying something to a grieving person. We are so afraid of committing the Ultimate Fail, we avoid the grieving person. We avoid them at church, in the grocery store, and in the lobby at work. We don’t pick up the phone and call. This is exactly the opposite of what the grieving person really needs.

So, how can we be free from fear of the Ultimate Fail? Ask yourself a simple question: Do I love this person (or, do I really care)? If we're honest, sometimes the answer is "no." We don't really care; we simply want to get credit for showing up at the funeral home because we "ought to go." We've all done it. Therefore, if the answer is "no," then "Silence is Golden" should be the rule. People can tell if we're just checking off boxes and don't really care about them.

However, if the answer is "yes," you do love them, or you want to love them, or want to try to show them you care, you cannot commit the Ultimate Fail. Love can never commit the Ultimate Fail. You're free! Does that mean you'll never put your foot into your mouth? Of course not! Haven't we all said something stupid to the people we love?! Nevertheless, we pull our feet out of our mouths and say, "I'm sorry. I'm a fool." And the person we love will say, "You really are a fool, but I love you for showing up at this hard time and trying to love me."

Love means you're free from the fear of the Ultimate Fail. So, being assured of that, receive wisdom from the "Never"-lists, but don't let them paralyze you ever again!

―Mark Brown, Chaplain (Yadkinville, NC)

Tags: Grief Support