thanks but no thanks

You know when you’re down on your luck, going through a terrible time, and all you want to do is drown yourself in a vat of melted chocolate? Then, you lean on your loved one for support and they say, “don’t worry, everything happens for a reason.” Really? Am I the only one who gets stabby over this saying? My dog got run over for a reason? How comforting.


Now, obviously people say this because they think they are helping, so I can’t fault them too much. I’m equally bad at comforting people. I never know what to say, so I just try to smile and offer to buy them pizza. “Oh, you lost your job? Does that mean you want your pizza with extra cheese then?” I’m terrible at it. Once my friend was crying because her boyfriend suddenly broke up with her and I tried to make it better by doing a dance for her. I even made up a song to go with it. It made her cry harder. Oops.

Be careful who you say ‘things happen to a reason’ to. Things are more personal than that. Things are more traumatic than that. There is no good reason for many things to happen – rape, cancer, infertility, child abuse/molestation, the list goes on.

(PS – Nothing traumatic is happening to me, and I don’t even own a dog. No worries, friends)

159 thoughts on “thanks but no thanks

  1. Kate Crimmins says:

    It’s like a funeral. What can you really say that is comforting? The standard “I’m sorry for your loss” seems so rote but what else is there? Offering pizza would work for me.

  2. xoxjenn says:

    In my mind, I don’t feel like I need words every time to receive the support or give it. I’ll hug or sit beside them until they’ve said everything they wish to say and cry until they can cry no more. Yesterday I cried my ass off at the vet and the nurses hugged me and reassured me they’d do everything they can. Before I got home I called my husband and blubbered about not knowing why Gidget was so ill and in pain and he told me to make sure I was calm before driving home. When I got home, he pulled me in for a hug and I just cried it all out until I could compose myself again. My oldest dog was going through something they couldn’t even pin point. $800s worth of tests and medicines later, they still weren’t sure what set off her illness. She’s doing well today but I’m still a bit on end until I see that she’s made it through the day without relapsing.

    • Pan says:

      I hope she recovers and fast.. There’s nothing worse for me than to be helpless to help the helpless.. Children, Elderly folks and animals..
      And when the professionals can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong, it’s almost overwhelming helplessness and worry..

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      It’s so frustrating when they can’t figure out what’s going on :/ I’m glad she is doing better and hope you get some answers soon. One of my cats has a mystery illness 4 different vets (and a crapton of money on testing) haven’t been able to figure out. It’s so stressful. ❤

      • xoxjenn says:

        Blargh, I know! Years of study and experience and they come upon things they can’t explain??? It makes me want to research it and figure it out myself. Is your cat in pain? I hope he/she has relief from the illness. And thank you, Blair! I hope so too (stuck at work so I won’t see how she’s been doing until I get home.) xoxo

  3. Roy Cohen says:

    Rit cancer: That actually does happen for a reason. Suppose everyone who ever had cancer or has now survives it to live longs lives. Where are we going to house them…? Nobody wants to say it, but cancer is an evolutionary response to population growth.

    Let the hate mail begin…

  4. Lady Dickson says:

    I hate that saying with a fiery passion, but I know everyone friggin says it so WHATEVER YO. If someone offered me pizza when something bad is happening in my life, I would be so goddamn happy. SCREW BOYFRIENDS, PIZZA IS FOREVER.

  5. allyheynow says:

    Agreed. Anything like a break up or a change of occupation, perhaps moving could be a ” happens for a reason” response but anything unfortunate sucks and perhaps a ” this too shall past” may be more appropriate.

  6. mariegriffith says:

    You’re right Blair. No words are better than saying “there’s a reason your dad died suddenly”. No one actually said that to me, thank God. The beautiful people that came to offer their condolences were kind and thoughtful. Just there. That’s what I try to do…..just be there. That’s the best thing.

  7. Justice&Humanity says:

    Oh, this is definitely a major, *major* pet peeve of mine. I hate that saying with every fiber of my being. Sometimes, life just sucks. There is good and bad, positive and negative, and probabilities dictate that in a world with wonderful and horrific things, we are all going to be treated to both on a regular and random basis.

  8. nombre de la pluma says:

    Yeah I really hate that answer. My answer has become “that really sucks. Can I pray for you/get you [Insert Age Appropriate Thing I Have to Offer]?” I’m convinced shit just happens because the world isn’t a perfect place and we have to endure the shit and help each other through it the best we can. Some people, in hindsight, can look back and figure out their own purposes, but sometimes, it’s just a shit storm because sometimes life is a shit storm. And going through them sucks.

    When I hear these answers, I cringe anticipating stabby responses to platitudes and stupid spitritul trite answers to really really complex issues. There are certain Bible verses I’m sick of hearing because they’re mis-appropriated or untimely. My favorite trite answer to the trite answer is Ephesians 4:15- sure, speak the truth, but speak it in love. Is it truly loving or is it your excuse to not get involved disguised as an “encouragement” for the person to fix it for themselves? Is it the right time to say it, or will it be even more burdensome to the person hearing it?

    I was struggling and went to some church deacons for help. I had already updated my resume. So their help included instructing me to “put God first,” and added “just” find another job. But then, none of them were “just” hiring at a rate I could live on. One even said I should gut it out and get a part time crap job to add to my already overly busy schedule when I’m depressed and have to force myself to get out of bed and scrape myself together enough to get to the one job I already have. So I “just” left after they didn’t help how I needed to be helped. Thanks but no thanks. Proverbs 3:27, Galatians 6:10, really could have been demonstrated lovingly here, but alas, they were “blind guides.”

      • nombre de la pluma says:

        I didn’t have a knife or I might’ve gotten stabby. Not wanting to burn bridges or damage MY reputation I kept my mouth shut. At least they prayed for us, but I could have really benefited from some emergency cash, even if it was a loan. Nope. Nada.

  9. Joe says:

    Your words are very accurate indeed, and I have my own theory about why people say that.

    I have heard this many times in my life, especially when I struggled with battling cancer. Each time I found myself asking the question, “so what was the reason that this bad thing just happened to me?” Sometimes there were no answers.

    Still, I believe that, for some people, they feel compelled to say something, but they just don’t know what to say. Sometimes things like “hey buddy, cheer up, cancer ain’t so bad” just doesn’t cut it. So they say some meaningless, bland thing just to make themselves feel good knowing that they said something.

    What can you really say when someone experiences pain? Each pain is unique to that person. In reality, sometimes the best thing to do is to listen to them, see if they need anything, and just say “I am here for you.”

    And sometimes, no words are necessary to do that.

  10. Cotton Boll Conspiracy says:

    Yeah, things happen for a reason, except sometimes that reason isn’t a very happy one to ponder, such as the cells in your body chose to mutate into cancer; some prick somewhere in the world decided to invade another country and untold numbers died as a result; or someone you loved was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got hit by a drunk driver, shot by a thug or lost their job because their company failed, the result of poor decision making higher up. Considering those “reasons” isn’t going to make anyone feel better, though.

    Often, trite sayings, while well-intentioned, make things worse in the long run.

      • Cotton Boll Conspiracy says:

        Yes, I think folks are trying to be positive, but it’s only slightly better than saying to someone who’s just lost a loved one, “God must have needed them in Heaven.”

        I’m no theologian, but I really don’t think that one holds up under any kind of doctrinal scrutiny.

  11. notthestateofmyhouse says:

    Love your honesty–hate that saying. There’s always a cause (e.g., because Hitler was a jerk) but explanations are beyond us. And my husband offers to order my favorite pizza (loaded baked potato… so, so good) every time I’m overwhelmed. Too much work to do, kid’s driving you crazy, the house a wreck… just pull up the order page.

  12. Ivy Willow says:

    ACK!!!! I hate hate hate that saying, you are definitely not the only one. I’m not a fan of platitudes in general. Often times I wish people would just acknowledge when something sucks. You know? Like, “Hey. This sucks. I’m sorry. Anything I can do?” No “for a reason.” No “it’ll get better.” No “insert other platitudes here.” Just, this sucks, I understand, how can I help.

    P.S. – I’m glad that your dog you don’t have didn’t die. That’s good.
    Here’s pizza.

  13. plainmama says:

    People should really only say it about themselves, not to others. I have lost both my parents and my brother and I whole heartedly say it happened for a reason. My life would be completely different had those events not occurred. For me it’s about focusing on the positive parts of life and, yes, I believe there are positives to every tragedy if you look. But you don’t know where someone is at in their process. They may be in full on pissed at the world mode and “it happened for a reason” is the last thing that will resonate. Basically people don’t want to be told how to feel and by saying that it makes them think they need to feel okay about what happened.

    • Pan says:

      You are spot on.. The last thing someone at thier most vulnerable and most sensitive wants to be is, invalidated.. And stomping on the person saying, look at it this way or that, does nothing to help..

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      Nailed it. I can look back and rationalize terrible things from my OWN past and I DO think they happened for a reason. It doesn’t help to tell others that during their own issues though. Its exactly like you said – depends where that person is in the process.

  14. serenasinclair says:

    Agreed. And also when people pat you and say, “It’s gonna be okay” or “It will all work out in the end.” Or, and this one is more specific to me, “how is your mom doing?” To which I always reply, “well she has a disease that only gets worse, so I guess she’s okay…” I understand they’re trying to be helpful, but honestly, my mom IS just getting worse and it sucks to be reminded of that every time someone trying to be nice asks.

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      Ugh, that sounds like a painful reminder :/. I’m sorry. I probably would ask the same thing without realizing it could bother someone! I’m glad you shared that, because now I’ll come up with a better approach to someone in a similar situation.

  15. Pan says:

    I only say it in situations that it applies to.. To make any sentence a blanket statement, just shows me the person either doesn’t know how to deal with giving comfort or they lack empathy but want to say something because they think its thier duty as a friend/relative..

    Comfort from me isn’t usually in words.. Offering help in what I can do for them while they go thru grieving is my way.. A hug, pay a bill, make calls or appts.. Sometimes just listening to the person is enough and sometimes, by listening, I find the best ways to help them thru..

      • Pan says:

        I only offer what I can do at any given time.. I’m really not nice by nature.. but for some reason I’m like an empath it seems and I do act on it, if I can help relieve pain..

  16. piratepatty says:

    I usually just say I’m sorry, I am at a loss for words. Although I lost my husband when he was 36 and I wanted to scream every time someone said that to me. The only person who didn’t say that was one of the nuns at the funeral who hugged me and slipped me a Xanex. I miss her.

  17. nissetje says:

    If something bad is happening in my life and someone tells me that “Everything happens for a reason,” it makes me stop crying immediately. Why? Because it sends me into a tantrum of sarcastic rage!

  18. Tippy Gnu says:

    It’s so easy just to put on a sympathetic face, keep quiet, and listen. Save your money on pizza. There’s no need to take difficult or expensive routes when comforting someone.

  19. The Flying Dutchman says:

    I say it all the time. I’m a totally unapologetic “things happen for a reason”er. There, I said it. 🙂 I only say that because when I look back on all the rotten crap that has happened in my life (and I hated it at the time) there really WAS a reason it happend. I couldn’t have moved on to better things if my girlfriend hadn’t dumped me, if I hadn’t attempted suicide, if I hadn’t have moved out to the farm belt, if I hadn’t been in that car accident. Something better always happened to me as a result that could not have happened to me otherwise. But then, I’m a believing man so…

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      I look at my own past the same way! Things, for the most part, have worked out for the better. Even after going through some terrible times. I don’t think the words are comforting to say to other people though – especially when they are in the thick of the grieving process 🙂

  20. babbitman says:

    Yeah. That and “perhaps it was meant to be”. Absolute bollocks. I’m a firm believer in basic cause and effect, not some depressing idea of fate and predetermination.

  21. samanthamurdochblog says:

    I’m not fond of the platitude ” it’s karma” which I have had offered to me in the past . Pizza would have been preferable actually, or even a nice packet of chocolate biscuits…sometimes as well wordless empathy is all that’s necessary.

  22. bgddyjim says:

    I see your point. I don’t necessarily agree with walking on eggshells, trying to figure out what will or won’t upset someone… interesting topic for thought.

  23. buffaloschnitzel says:

    Too funny! I had to laugh about the “doing a dance” to make your friend feel better. I could totally see myself doing that, too, so it rang a familiar bell. Ugh, yeah, it’s so tough to know what to say when someone is hurting. I’m finally starting to come to the conclusion that the very best I can do is listen and hug where necessary. Another bad one is when people say they “know exactly how you feel” and then go on and on about their own life.

  24. bluebunny01 says:

    Pretty much I think a little dance and a made-up song are a perfect response to rubbish situations. When nothing is appropriate a dance works fine – in my book. Thinking back on it this would probably have been the best response to finding out I had cancer, my parents had died etc. etc. I also agree with in in that I hate it when people say things happen for a reason – or that things will make us stronger – what possible reason is there for getting cancer – how exactly has this made my life better? I also hated it when people used to tell me that if I had a positive attitude it would help me ‘beat cancer’ – I rather wickedly then responded that obviously my mum wasn’t trying hard enough then!

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      If only positivity really did cure/beat cancer ha. That’s really strange. I like to think a singing and dancing act would help a lot of people in sad times – it would help me! Not sure why it didn’t work my friend. At least it helps you smile for a moment!

  25. Marissa Bergen says:

    Yes, for sure and this is ‘a thing’ by the way. I have a friend who is dealing with a teenaged autistic son and now has a husband going through intensive cancer treatment and she posted a link to an article with this same kind of message. If everything happens for a reason, why would something like this happen to a nice person like that??

  26. sherijkennedyriverside says:

    Saying it happens for a reason is basically telling you how you should respond to your crisis instead of letting you feel what you feel. I think a ‘I’m here if you need me’ works for most situations. Being willing to listen but not pushing the person to talk about it. It’s about them not you. Although I agree with BLUEBUNNY01 that a little dance and made-up song would have helped me. A good laugh is welcome any time. I’m not sure why that didn’t work for your friend unless maybe it reminded her of what he used to do to make her feel better…oops! 🙂

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      Well, I’ll make sure I dance next time you’re feeling down 🙂 Listening is the most important part really. Not the blanket statements! Oftentimes people just want their feelings validated. Not to be told how to feel. I think you hit the nail on the head!

  27. erinb9 says:

    Agreed. It’s meant to be comforting but comes across as tritely dismissive, even a slap in the face, suggesting that whatever horrible thing happened was actually good.

  28. Sara McDaren says:

    Such an unhelpful, uncomforting thing to say.

    I think it’s the place where two disparate belief systems crash into each other and cancel each other out. There’s karma or as my stepmother used to say, “What comes around goes around and payback is a bitch.” And there’s the Christian belief that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”

    Tangentially (meaning you can totally disregard what I write next): I believe that bad things CAN be used for good but not that the bad things themselves are good and I certainly wouldn’t say it or want to hear it in the midst of a crisis. I believe in good overcoming evil (someday – please God, how long?), I believe that there is power to triumph, I believe that as long as there is life there is hope and that the past does not determine the future. I believe in justice and I believe in mercy. I cling to these ideas, I grasp at them with my desperate fingertips sometimes. I’m going to stop now before I make myself too emotional to wash the dishes.

  29. Linda Hutchison says:

    Thank you for this! It drives me nuts when people say that. I think they fear the complete randomness of the world. NO WAY would a family on the way to see grandma on Sunday wiped out by a drunk driver think this happened for a reason! Such an unkind philosophy.

    Keep up the good writing!
    head wind journal

  30. George says:

    People need explanations, someone to blame or reasons for certain things. When nothing fits into the slot they’ve created or are involved with, they come up with this phrase. It helps them to cope because no explanation just won’t cut it.

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      Oh, I totally get it when it comes to your own life. I say it to myself all the time when small frustrating things happen. Because you’re right – sometimes it’s the only reasoning I can come up with and its a little comforting. Saying it to someone else is different though. In my mind, at least.

  31. Otakraft says:

    Platitudes of that nature are spoken because people feel the need to do something for the traumatized, in pain, and bereaved. I understand that sentiment, but often those sayings feel false and patronizing. Saying you’re sorry they are in pain and reminding them you’re here for them is a good start. Most people don’t even want verbal comfort, by just want someone there. I also have on good authority (a psychologist specializing in grief and trauma recovery) that telling them if they need anything all they have to do is ask is actually a bad move. It comes from a good place, but people in these situations do not need to have more decisions given to them. Offer something specific or a small list of things you’re willing to do so the choice is easy: Offer to make a meal so they don’t have to, offer to clean or do laundry for them so they don’t have to, if they have pets or children that are hard to take care of right now offer help with that. They may not take you up on the offer right away, but leaving it open is all right. At that point you can even say “If you think of anything you’d like help with please call me.”

    Sorry for the long weird derail.

  32. flatpickingjd says:

    I’ve never understood that kind of comment. Is it so hard to just say ‘I’m sorry”? Or if you need to add to that, how about “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m sorry you’re hurting, what can I do for you”?

    Spare me the religious platitudes.

  33. The EcoFeminist says:

    Well put. I’ve heard that so much. In these situations, what we need most are HUGS. I had someone who I thought was one of my best friends who throughout this year and a half infertility bullshit has shown up for me maybe three times, and cancelled at least ten times, with 100% of her communication now via text. After she cancelled the last two times because of – ironically – something she wanted to go do with her kid (who’s 19 btw, not living at home), I just stopped trying. And in that month, as she knew I was having my 3rd IVF, not even a single text much less a call. People will say “oh they just don’t know what to say” but I remember when my father died and the best people made attempts – even if they’re silly dances like you say, trying to make someone happy, that EFFORT is really appreciated because it’s not some canned “I’m sorry” / “Everything happens for a reason” (or the even more repulsive comments regarding God or Jesus having something to do with the bad news). But honestly, hug and the presence of someone is best – and not the ‘tell me if you need anything’ which puts the onus on the person who’s hurting. After our first negative IVF my stepmother in law sent me flowers, now that was the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done.

    • Blair (The Shameful Sheep) says:

      Aw, flowers are nice. It’s hard for some people to find the right words to say. I mean, there really isn’t anything anybody can say in most situations. I appreciate the effort. Presence is key though. You’re definitely right

  34. momsranting says:

    I agree. I always thought that sounded kind of smug…. Oh…there’s a reason, you just don’t rate KNOWING that reason….
    Ugh. gifts of chocolate and comfort foods are always an acceptable response to bad things.

  35. Keith says:

    The right thing to say can be difficult. If it is a friend, you can be more giving – I am sorry this has happened. Do you want to talk about it?

    If an acquaintance where such an offer would be viewed as insincere, then you can stop after the first sentence. By the way, the everything happens for a reason comment overlooks that the person may have had a hand in the reason. Maybe the person drove the boyfriend away by not loving him the way he did her, e.g.

  36. laceduplutheran says:

    Having presided or assisted with numerous funerals over the past year, along with providing pastoral care for families who suffer the loss of a loved one, I can tell you that the best response you can make is not to try to make people grieving feel better, just be with them, say nothing and listen or just sit with them while they cry. The reality is that death sucks. Be with the person who is living this reality at the moment. Be uncomfortable and let them lead you through the valley of death that they are in. Your presence is what is really needed, no words.

    I think we try to make the person feel better because we’re uncomfortable with the situation and usually uncomfortable with death. Most people can’t even say the word.

    The other person is living it – the loss caused by death. Acknowledge the truth of death and be with that person where they are. No words are necessary really. And usually words from non-grieving people screw things up.

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