The Dos and Don’ts for Responding Spiritually to Tragedy

By: Pine Rest Staff

Spirituality often becomes more important to us in times of tragedy, loss, suffering and illness because it connects us to both our higher power and those around us, helps us to find meaning and purpose, and brings us hope and healing. Sometimes, these very same conditions can make us question ourselves, our spirituality and all we know. In our Spirituality and Emotional Health blog series, our clinicians and chaplains explore what it means to be spiritual beings, how it affects our interactions with the world and how we sometimes struggle with and question our own spirituality.

BLOG: Responding Spiritually to TragedyTragedy changes us. It shakes our view of the world and our place in it. It changes religious faith. Sometimes stronger. Sometimes weaker. Always different. It can lead to:

• Questioning your world view, religious beliefs, and faith practice
• Questioning who/what you can trust
• Confronting your mortality
• Loss of illusion of your invulnerability
• A sense of meaninglessness

It’s tempting to rush to faith-driven explanations for seemingly senseless events or in our own discomfort to offer quick platitudes, but these are not helpful and often incite further hurt, frustration or even rage. No magic words can immediately take pain away. Forcing them can be hurtful.

Instead, there is tremendous healing power in calm, strong presence


• Say “I am so sorry, and I am so sad with you. How can I help?”
• Pray, if welcomed
• Listen, accept and validate
• Repeat information to demonstrate understanding
• Convey empathy


• Offer deep theological and philosophical explanations
• Rush to defend God
• Be defensive or argumentative
• Interrupt
• Give advice or opinions in a patronizing way
• Tell war stories or share your own personal stories of loss

AVOID: Toxic and Potentially Toxic Statements After a Death

Although there may be truth or an element of truth in these statements, timing is everything. You can agree with the impacted person as she or he states them but DO NOT offer them as platitudes.

• God works all things together for good.
• God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
• I know just how you feel.
• This is God’s judgment. You reap what you sow.
• This reminds me of the time…
• God needed another flower in his garden.
• God loved them so much He couldn’t wait.
• God has made them an angel.
• God was saving them from a bad future.
• Don’t believe that or don’t feel that way.
• If you just had enough faith.
• Don’t be angry with God.
• They’re in a better place.
• At least they’re no longer suffering.
• He wouldn’t want you carrying on like this.
• At least you have more children.

Although shared with good intentions they may not be well-received. Instead, remember: You cannot not communicate. (Double negative intentional!) Your caring presence will express what words may fail to articulate.

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