I hear these things, all of the time. If you read this blog and still say these things, I will punch you.


This is from an article off of Huffington Post. Thanks, CC.


We often have no idea what to say in the face of senseless loss. That is especially true when children are the victims of tragedy. Today’s shooting in Connecticut is heartbreaking in so many ways, not the least of which is the staggering loss of children.

My first two years in ministry were spent as a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children’s hospital with a level one trauma center. During that ministry I saw so many senseless tragedies. I also heard some of the worst theology of my life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren’t. And often, they made the situation worse.

Here are five things not to say to grieving family and friends:

1. “God just needed another angel.”

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents.

2. “Thank goodness you have other children,” or, “You’re young. You can have more kids.”

Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.

3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.

The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents’ hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.

4. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn’t come from God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.

5. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.

Unless you are God, don’t use this line.

And here are five things to say:

1. I don’t believe God wanted this or willed it.

A grieving friend or family member is likely hearing that this is God’s will from a number of other people. Affirm the idea that it may very well not be.

2. It’s okay to be angry, and I’m a safe person for you express that anger to if you need it.

Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don’t know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. (For instance, they may be told they have no right to be angry at God.) By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings, including anger, with, you help the grieving person know where they can turn.

3. It’s not okay.

It seems so obvious, but sometimes this doesn’t get said. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit. Sometimes nothing works out right. And sometimes there is no way to fix it. Naming it can be helpful for some because it lets them know you won’t sugarcoat their grief.

4. I don’t know why this happened.

When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain “why?” The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it’s best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know.

5. I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.

Even if you have faced a similar loss, remember that each loss is different. Saying “I know how you’re feeling” is often untrue. Instead, ask how the grieving person is feeling. And then ask what you can do to help. Then, do it and respect the boundaries around what they don’t want help with at this point. You will be putting some control back into the hands of the grieving person, who often feels like they have lost so much of it.


23 responses to “I hear these things, all of the time. If you read this blog and still say these things, I will punch you.”

  1. Maya,

    Thank you for posting this. A lot of times, people really just don’t know what they should say and say exactly the wrong thing. They don’t intend to make you more upset, and are trying to help (well, at least most of them… there are those few that honestly believe the drivel that they are spewing and will never understand that what they are saying is both false and hurtful at the same time).

    You are so right when you tell people that if they don’t know what to say, they should just tell you that they are so sorry and they are there for you no matter what you need. Mostly, people need the outlet, and to know that whatever they are saying, feeling, doing is not going to be judged and their friends/family will love them no matter what happens.

    What happened in CT was senseless and it boggles my mind that if this person was having problems, just take themselves out and leave everyone else alone! No one deserves to have their children taken from them, no matter the circumstance. Each lost child impacts people differently and can never be “replaced.”

    Ro will forever be your anchor and your guiding light. It sucks that you lost him, and I can’t even remotely pretend to understand how that would feel if it were my child, but your love for each other still endures and comes through loud and clear on this blog page.

    Thank you for sharing your son with the world. And especially thank you for taking on pediatric cancer and bringing it into the light so people can see how insidious this bastard really is. Those of us that have been impacted by childhood cancer need more people like you to fight on and not just paste a smile on their faces.

  2. Wow, I love this Maya, so helpful!! So seemingly spot on! Thank you for sharing. Love to you as always…

  3. Maya, I am so sorry……….I think of you and Ronan EVERY DAY. Great post…..

  4. I watched my mother die from cancer when I was in the first grade. Do you remember what your concept of life an death was at seven? I do, and it was practically nonexistent. After the cancer had ravaged her body and mind, after I had seen my mother’s lifeless frame carried away in a casket, my catholic auntie thought she could bring me some peace of mind by saying that God needed my mother and thus took her to be with him up in heaven….that that was why she died, because it was God’s will.

    Telling a grieving and lost little girl that ANYONE needs her mommy more than she does and that the person/entity who made her die of CANCER had it all planned is ridiculous. Hell, telling ANYONE in ANY situation that their loved ones died because a deity that they may or may not believe in had it all planned is just absolute horseshit. I took what my auntie told me and came to the logical conclusion: if it was God who did this, if it was God who robbed me of my mother and had me watch while she withered away to nothing, then I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God. I mean, what kind of asshole would do such a fucking thing? Why would this supposed force of good take it upon himself to destroy my family? God may as well have been Satan to me, for he put me through hell.

    To this day I do not understand what brings people to utter these supposed words of comfort. Please, before you say anything to someone who is mourning the loss of their former family, of their life as they knew it, please, stop to ask yourself: will it make those in suffering feel better, or does it simply bring YOU some peace of mind? If you’re not sure of the answer, simply wrap your arms around them and don’t say anything at all.

    1. Bonnie Schwertner Avatar
      Bonnie Schwertner

      I know what you’re saying. I’m not known for being a “lady,” so it comes as no surprise when I tell someone “That just SUCKS and NObody should have to go through that.”

  5. Thank you for your posts Maya – I love that you can find your own rock star energy and fight every day to highlight primarily how amazingly special a little boy Ro is, but also to educate people on so many things – like how to speak to the bereaved (hate that word btw, it is far too clinical and portrays none of the tearing pain).
    I have no idea of what you are going through (am a mother to a 4 yo and 18 month toddler) but my beautiful brother was killed by a massive brain haemorrage at the age of 16. I can’t believe how many people told me to do be strong for my parents, how ‘god only takes the best’ – bollocks. I literally want to vomit if I see a stupid fucking cherib on a condolence card. Spare me. More than happy if people want or need their religion but a lot of what is said, as highlighted in the article, is totally inappropriate.
    Anyway thank you. You have no idea what difference you and Ro are making to so many people.
    Kirsty (London)

  6. Wonderful post Maya so important!!!
    I see sweet little Ronan’s picture every morning (I have a button from the first funraiser in my bathroom on my earing holder) and I tell him good morning and tell him to watch over you and your family and keep you safe and help you feel better. (I worry about you throwing up and not feeling well) I hope you days get easier and easier, and I am so proud of the job you are doing!
    Sending you hugs! Behind you all the way!!
    Candi Frost

  7. I got, “he’s in a better place.” And “everything happens for a reason.” A lot!! I wanted to punch everyone who said that to me.

    We have different circumstances but i too lost a child. Everything you write here is so spot on to what went through and still goes thorough my head. I am so grateful to get to read your blog.

  8. I agree with everything except for the last one. Sometimes it helps to know that others know what you are feeling and they understand what you feel like. It all depends on the person. Stay strong. I love you with all my heart.

  9. I’m very sorry if I have ever posted, emailed to you or any other grieving person those words. We grow up hearing those things and think its ok. No one really ever comments and says you ass, how could you say that. I wish I had been called out on it so i would know how bad it was to say. I have learned a lot about grief while reading your blog and through personal experiences. It is all so different with everyone. The only thing similar is the blinding pain of lose.
    I don’t always agree with everything you say, and that’s fine with me. We don’t have to agree…a lot of people don’t agree with me and I have major respect for them. I do agree with your previous post about praying and doing nothing. I pray to God all the time…but I know that I have to be active in the change I want out of this world. God works through me, so I have to be motivated with my prayers. You are very motivated in yours. I just don’t think people can complain or expect any kind of change if they are not motivated to make it happen.
    Children die everyday from many things…God is not the reason for any of these deaths. This is a cruel and senseless world. Too cruel for children. We the adults, the parents are the protectors of these special gifts…our children.
    I agree hug them tight everyday. Tell them how great they are everyday…we don’t know our futures. Certainly if we want it to change…we have to be the change we want to see!
    Through many circumstances in my life recently I have come to believe God gives us children so we may see the love and pain he feels for all of us. He also gives them to us for great joy! No one is more joyful than a child!
    So everyone get off your asses and make something great happen. Otherwise don’t complain.

  10. i read this yesterday – I hope people read it and take notice of it.

  11. Maya,

    I am sorry for your loss!!!.

    I think when most people say what they say (whether or not it is appropriate or not) when someone is grieving, Is just their human nature to try and soothe and make the grieving person feel better… Not to offend or make the family feel worse…

    The people who post stupid and trivial things on Facebook just do not know of the grief so many endure.. They live in their own little world that has yet to be touched by traumatic loss..

    who are we to show disdain to them?… Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of living in that safe little world anymore… But I will not condemn their “safe world” because I no longer feel like them.. I truly hope they do never have to endure a tragic loss NO ONE SHOULD!!!

    I know you will never feel better..All of us handle our loss differently..(and our losses are not the same)

    Just keep being you! You are doing wonderful things… You are fighting and you will make a difference..


  12. Usually, I have a very bad opinion of religious organizations. The examples you listed are one reason why. It is all too easy to invoke a deity to hide behind when when you don’t have the courage do say what really needs to be said.

    Often what people really need is the ability to not be judged. To grieve and feel the warmth and compassion of people around them. Saying that a deity willed something like this to happen creates spite and animosity towards that deity in the person suffering. Your suggestions are a fundamentally better.

    I might suggest one more: Say nothing. Embrace firmly.

  13. I also lost my son (a beautiful Joseph) just four months ago, and I have to say that I disagree with a lot of this. I didn’t start truly healing until I let go of my anger and decided to trust #4 – God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and he promises to be with us. The truth is. as much as both of us are hurting, we are in fact surviving. When we lean on those around us, the amount we can “handle” is amazing. Letting go of your anger DOES NOT mean that you’ll stop fighting for a cure – I hope that you can find a way to keep fighting and find peace. You deserve it.

    1. Seriously? – ‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle’ – please. It is precisely insenstive comments like this that the article, rightly, is complaining about. Show a bit of respect or find a religious forum that do agree with.

      1. It’s not an insensitive comment Kirsty, because she’s talking about herself, not directing it toward Maya. All this woman said was that when she lost her child, believing in God helped her heal. And that’s how you respond to her? Why don’t you think long and hard about her post and your response to her and then consider who is actually being disrespectful in this exchange.

    2. i hope she finds peace too.

  14. It takes a very good person with a very open mind to continue to read your blog 😉

    1. I disagree. It only takes a person who understands they have no right to judge this woman. This is her life and her pain, and no one else on the planet knows exactly what she’s going through. She is a passionate person, she loves fiercely (one can only imagine the depth of her pain) and, by the amazing things she is creating out of her personal hell, she has proven to be a force of nature.
      I feel lucky that I can come and read this blog. Maya and Ronan are changing the world.

    2. Dear Erin Riek,
      Fuck off. I’ve just read the comments from the last few posts, and for those who don’t know who you are, you’re a hater who seems to do nothing but troll around for other haters’ comments so you can then happily agree with their bullshit posts about loving God and hating Maya. I believe you and that other idiot, Dawn, from the last blogpost’s comments section, just proclaimed that you were not going to be reading this blog anymore. Now you’re back, probably bc you have no life, and enjoy hurling insults at a bereaved mother all in the name of God, and you’re publicly applauding yourself for returning to read the blog? Let’s be clear: You’re not continuing to read because you’re a “good person” with an “open mind”. You’re continuing to follow this blog because you’re a fucking loser with nothing better to do than harass people!
      I’m a liberal atheist…Do I spend my time posting comments on conservative or religious blogs? NO! Why the hell would I waste my time on websites for people whose values, beliefs, and lifestyles are so opposite to my own?
      Here’s some advice: just like Maya said, she does not need you here. Leave. Find some website where people talk about the “power of prayer” or something. If that’s your thing, great. You can debate with people all day long about the best way to pray or something. GOOD RIDDANCE.

  15. Thank you, jrc! Very well said.

  16. Maya, you don’t know me but we have many friends in common. I have been reading your blog for sometime now and really appreciate your honesty. I am so glad you have addressed our need to do something about things instead of just praying. Religion is very personal to me and I can’t stand when people think their religious way is THE right way. Praying makes me feel better, like talking to a friend, but it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done something to make things better. I woke up on Saturday after the shooting and thought to myself, this is bullshit, if this had been my girls I would spend the rest of my life trying to make sure it didn’t happen again. Much like you are doing with your son. I made a promise to myself that I make that into a different statement. Instead I will do what I can to do something so it isn’t my children, or your children. or anyones children. We all do this, we all take so much for granite but we can’t anymore. We have to be present. We have to make an effort to make the world better, to help find a cure for cancer and every other illness, we need to find a way to feed people who are starving. It sounds like a daunting task, solving all the world’s problems. But we don’t need to solve them all alone. We can each chip away at them, doing small things, donating money, volunteering, spreading the word, signing a petition…the list goes on and on. We could spend 15 minutes a day making a difference! But in a nutshell thank you Maya for being so brave to just put it all out there.

  17. This……is awesome. Our NICU chaplain was put on this earth to do what she does. Often I would be sitting by my daughter’s isolette and would turn my head to see Chaplain Nancy just standing there. I would have no idea how long she’d been there, but she was just…. there. She never initiated conversation, allowed me to lose faith and ask why, and spoke only peaceful words. It is a calling and I’m blown away by the people who do it with grace.

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