What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (If You Have to Say Something)

Recently I shared on Facebook a great piece from BuzzFeed, “What You Say to Someone Who’s Grieving vs. What They Hear.” While I liked what it had to say about how our well-intentioned platitudes can actually be hurtful, some of my friends found it discouraging. Their (very valid) point was that there were no positive alternatives offered, nothing like, “Say this instead.” One friend suggested that, since I work with grieving people every day as a hospital chaplain, I should write a list of better things to say to them. I hesitated, because every situation and every grieving person is different, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that there are magic words that will make the hurt go away. There just aren’t. But as I thought about it, I did come up with at least a few guidelines and suggestions for words that, in most cases, I believe will help more than they hurt. With a subject as messy as grief, that’s the best I can do. So, here we go. Continue reading “What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (If You Have to Say Something)”

G is for God

(This post is part of the continuing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following exchange with a patient or family member in the hospital:

“Hi, my name is Stacy. I’m the hospital chaplain.”

“Oh, thank you for coming, but I don’t believe in God.”

My response varies. In my early days as a chaplain intern, I would have allowed this to be the end of the visit. But now, with a few years’ experience under my belt, I don’t walk away so quickly. Sometimes I’ll ask them what it means to them not to believe in God. Sometimes I’ll be honest enough to say, “That’s okay; sometimes I don’t really believe either.” But usually, I just breathe a silent prayer to the God I (usually) believe in and offer whatever support I can to the person across from me. We may never mention God again, but God is there.  Continue reading “G is for God”

E is for Emergency Room

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(This is the fifth in the series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

It is the beating heart of the hospital. It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen a human heart beating (or struggling to beat) inside someone’s chest, up close and personal. I never know quite what I’m walking into when I get a call to the ER. Chaplains are part of the trauma team, automatically paged in the event of a trauma call. (More on that when we get to the letter T.) But there are many other reasons we get requests to come to the emergency room. It’s one of the units where I spend the most time. My closest friends on staff at the hospital are those who work the ER. (Incidentally, it is more appropriately called the emergency department, since it comprises many rooms. But thanks to those pharmaceutical commercials, when I hear ED I can only think of erectile dysfunction, so it remains the ER for me.)

Here, it’s all about crisis. Almost nobody wakes up in the morning planning on being in the ER later that day. The things that bring people here are sudden and surprising. Continue reading “E is for Emergency Room”