On “At Least…”

A very good chaplain friend of mine told me many years ago that there are two words a person should never say to someone who is grieving. And the grief they are experiencing, doesn’t have to revolve around death. It could be the loss of a job or a relationship or anything that is important to them. But when they share the struggle they are going through, the two words you should never say are these: “At least…” as you add on whatever you are planning to say about their situation.

A woman shares they have just had a miscarriage…At least you can try again to have a child. A friend shares their spouse just left them…At least you can find another spouse. An older family member shares a difficult cancer diagnosis…At least you lived a long life already…I can’t even print what I would say if I was the one they were saying “at least” to in any of those circumstances, or in all the many others that can come our way in life.

When we say “at least” we are negating what people are feeling and at the same time trying to make ourselves feel better about their circumstances. The words “at least,” minimize what a person may be going through in that moment as if it really isn’t that bad. When in fact, for them, it is.

We are so uncomfortable with grief that we have lost the art of lament and lament is how we cry out to God and let God know that life sucks right now. That life isn’t fair. That justice needs to be done or that something needs to change. Most importantly, the awful circumstances need to just go away. It is through lament that we can give voice to our sorrow and suffering. Just so you know, lament is a good thing as it helps us navigate through our difficulties and does not sweep them under the rug. Giving voice to the desolations in life helps us come to an understanding of what happened and how life has changed.

Typically, when people are going through difficulties, they are also in some form of shock. They are trying their best to process what is happening. They are trying to understand that their lives will never be the same…ever. These are life defining moments for better or for worse.  They don’t need our advice. They don’t need our feeble attempts to make things better. And they certainly don’t need to hear someone utter the words: “At Least…” UGH!!!

In case you are wondering what you might do, here are two pieces of valuable advice for when you are trying to comfort someone whose grief is inconsolable in the moment. Don’t talk. Just be.

Be there with them. Be comfortable with their silence. Be present. Be a friend. Be kind.

Also, don’t be surprised as you are sitting there quietly, if the person who is filled with grief, begins to swear. Because sometimes those are the only words they have to say about what they are feeling. Sometimes, swearing is the only way to release the rage that is simmering below the surface of their grief.

Above all, please don’t say: “At least…”


Pastor Beth

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