I was wearing one of my St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital golf shirts. When I wear one of the two I own someone usually asks me if I work at St. Jude. Typically I respond, “I am a volunteer. Also my grandson was a patient during his short life.” (Sully was diagnosed with infant leukemia at the age of two months. He fought valiantly. We continue to be very grateful for the efforts of everyone at St. Jude to help Sully. He died at age fifteen months.)
After lunch with my grandson Max, I went to Sprout’s Farmer’s Market. A
fellow customer noticed my shirt. She asked if I worked or volunteered at St. Jude. I answered with my typical response. Forty-four years of ministry, and especially the illness and death of my grandson Sully, have taught me not to be surprised at people’s responses to those who have lost a loved one. People mean well. As they search for the right words, so often what comes out of their mouths is not helpful. Yet I know typically their hearts are compassionate. I admit to stumbling with my words at times. Even though I know better.
This woman’s response shocked me. I was not prepared for it. “Did your grandson have cancer?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Leukemia.”
“What caused it?” she asked. Her question and tone caught me by surprise. I fumbled to explain what I understand about Sully’s leukemia.
“You know likely it was the result of the environment, cell phones, computers, and the like. You know that the chemotherapy industry is a multi-billion dollar business.”
I don’t remember what else she said as I fumbled in my effort to respond. The inferences I was drawing, but not saying, weren’t helping. You are saying my daughter and husband could have prevented Sully’s leukemia?! St. Jude’s dedicated medical and research staff are only interested in the money?! I could not believe what I was hearing.
There were no attempts by this woman to express sympathy or compassion. She saw my shirt and saw an opportunity to get on her soap box. Her parting words: “Go to this website [I did not hear it]. And keep an open mind.”
An open mind?! I wanted to slap her! My anger kept growing after she walked away.
The words of Job in rebuke of his “comforters” come to mind. “Then Job replied: ‘I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.’” (Job 16:1-5)
Admittedly this is a little rant I had to get off my chest. If it helps you think carefully about what you say to the hurting, the rant was worthwhile.
Here is a link to a very good article on things not to say to the grieving.
Things You Never Want to Hear in Your Grief