I wrote this three years ago, reposted it two years ago. I’m saying it more than ever. I decided to share it again.
I have a new phrase for families when I stand at bedside.
“This is hard.”
I‘ve said other things, and I’ve taught other things. I stand by the value of “I’m sorry for your loss.” But after many conversations with people who say, “I have to be strong” or “We just have to get through this” or “I know they’re at peace now”, I began to think that there is value in giving a label to the struggles people were facing.
Because, after all, “this is hard.”
When this is a death, of a parent or a spouse or a friend or a child, this is hard. When this is the death of the baby that you never had a chance to see breath, this is hard. When the chemo isn’t actually working, when the news you have is unthinkable, this is hard.
And so, without qualifiers (“But we’ll make it”, “But she’s better off”, “But you’ll have another one”), there is value in acknowledging, with eye contact and calmness, that “This is hard.”
It’s not a lack of faith. It is a presence of honesty. I have confidence that God can and will provide peace and comfort and courage. I ask for those all the time on behalf of families. But they are gifts, not expectations. They are graces, not guilty obligations. Being given a peace that passes understanding is NOT the same as being obliged by a well-meaning but insensitive person to demonstrate that peace before it is given when your breath has been taken along with the life of your love.
We can be honest with ourselves, our friends, and God about painful situations. Sometimes, the declaration of difficulty may lead to poetry like the Psalms. But each psalm of lament started not with the answer, but with the pain. And someone acknowledging a simple reality:
This is hard.
Of course, this phrase eventually turned into a short book: This Is Hard: What I Say When Loved Ones Die. It’s been out for about a year. If you’ve never bought it, I’d love you to at least look at it.