The Trap Of "At Least..."

One of the more common things people say when a friend loses someone is, “At least…”

“At least they’re no longer suffering.” “At least you know you can conceive.” “At least they went peacefully.” “At least they’re in a better place.” At least. At least. At least.

It rings in the minds of those who hear it like a funeral dirge, a reminder that if we grieve with our whole beings, we must somehow be minimizing the Lord’s sovereignty and work in our lives. Whether we realize it or not, when we tell someone in the midst of their hurt something that starts with at least, we tell them their pain is an exaggeration, a weakness, a lack of faith. That’s most likely not our intent; we probably want them to look for the good side in everything, the silver lining in every cloud.

Grief tends to bring guilt with it automatically. In the quiet moments, we who grieve tend to think of all of the should haves, we think of all the times we said something out of anger, we think of all the times we withheld affirmations of our love. We think of the what ifs and the if onlys, only now there is never any going back. Grief needs no outside influence to induce regret, so when we come in with our “at least” statements, we just reinforce a message we never meant to give.

In fact, most of us, if we knew the messages we perpetuate would be much more careful with our words. This is especially true during times of significant distress. What feels nothing like kicking a person while they are down to us actually is probably exactly that to such a degree that now they will try to force their grief, their pain, their emotions underground so they seem fine. They don’t want to lie; they just need to protect themselves from any further strain on their emotions.

Our desire to see the good in even the most difficult situations guards us from despair. We just need to watch how we express that desire in the midst of someone else’s pain. We understand only what they let us know of their pain; they probably allow us to see only a fraction of their raw emotions. So we need to tread carefully while not avoiding the situation.

Rather than at least statements, why not try asking questions along the lines of, “Do you have any memories you want to share?” Let no be an answer, always. Sometimes talking about it is just too hard. You can also ask if you can share a way you have been blessed recently (this might be a good time to avoid talking about someone being miraculously healed of exactly the same thing their loved one died from or the pregnancy you just discovered, unless they want to hear those things). Mostly, don’t insist on doing all the talking or having any answers. Be willing to sit in silence with them, cry with them, pray with them, and let them tell you anything they need to. A friend who is open to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly is truly the friend a grieving person needs more than almost anything else right now.