Shelly Hickman

Ramblings and Whatnot

Everything Happens for a Reason… Really? That’s the Best We Can Do?

There’s no question a belief in God would come in handy. It would be great to think there’s a plan, and that everything happens for a reason. I don’t happen to believe that. And every time one of my friends says to me, “Everything happens for a reason,” I would like to smack her. –Nora Ephron

This past week when I was on Facebook, I began seeing multiple posts from someone I used to work with–I’ll call her Mary–in which she was sharing photos of her two-year-old son. Mary is not someone I see often on FB, however occasionally she posts pics of her children, and when I began seeing these pictures of her son more frequently, I thought nothing of it. I simply “liked” them for their amazing cuteness, and since there were no descriptions accompanying them, I scrolled on down to the next item. Then yesterday I was absolutely horrified to see her tagged in a post by one of her friends which explained that Mary had tragically lost her son in an accident.

I am sixteen years out from losing my own child to leukemia, so my first instinct was to reach out to Mary and try to offer some words of comfort. Ultimately I did offer her an ear if she needs one, but really, what kind of comfort can I possibly offer? She and her husband are in the deepest, blackest of holes, enduring the worst emotional pain a person can endure, and honestly, what do I know of her grief? Sure, I know more than most people because I’ve also lost a child. But what do I really know of her personal grief and the loss she has suffered? I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child in the manner Mary lost her precious little boy.

I would like to tell her that, for some time, her older child will be the only thing that gets her out of bed each day, so she should be exceedingly grateful to still have her; not that her daughter can in any way serve as a replacement for her beautiful boy, but she will give Mary a reason for living. Because in truth, on most of the days immediately ahead of her, she won’t want to live.

Then I stop and think, “Grateful? She should be grateful?” That’s about as dumb-ass a sentiment as saying everything happens for a reason.

I clearly remember a day a few years after my daugher passed away, when I received a phone call from a friend who was close to hysterics. Through sobs, she shared how her daughter had been killed in a car accident. Someone blew through a stop sign, slamming into their car and her daughter was thrown from the vehicle. She didn’t know what to do. She needed me to tell her how to get through, how she was going to survive her loss. I was the only person she knew who could tell her, and there was such urgent desperation in her voice. I’m sure those weren’t her exact words, but that was the gist of her plea.

I was dumbfounded, speechless, paralyzed by my ineptitude. There simply were no words, only my heart shredding into a million little pieces for my friend. I’m sure I must have offered some empty platitudes, but really, what can one say except, “I’m sorry, and I’m here for you”?

Everything happens for a reason. I believed that once. I don’t anymore. Well, I guess it all depends on what day you ask me, but I certainly never say it aloud these days. And I mean no disrespect to those who do believe that, or think that God has a plan. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. I still have a strong belief in God; I’m just not so sure He plays such an active hand in our lives as we’d like to think. Yes, God is good, but prayers go unanswered all the time, and the idea that He answers the prayers of some and not others doesn’t sit well with me. I do know life can be cruel, and the older I get, I personally feel it’s all a crap shoot. Everyone thinks that losing a child, or experiencing some other calamity, is something that happens to other people but never to you. Until it happens to you.

I’ve wasted years of my life mired in the “why’s” and can’t help but slip back into them when something like this happens. Each time I see another picture or video of Mary’s little boy, whose life was cut much too short, there’s this screaming in my head. “WHY?????” We see countless memes online about how adversity only makes us stronger. I say screw that noise. There may be some truth in the adversity/strength argument, but I can guarantee you that Mary would much rather have her darling angel by her side than any strength she will gain from such devastating loss.

4 responses to “Everything Happens for a Reason… Really? That’s the Best We Can Do?”

  1. Shelly,
    I too am broken-hearted for Mary, her husband, and their daughter. The platitudes that people offer at a time like this are well-meaning, but can be interpreted in so many ways; from comforting to hurtful. I’ve heard people say to someone who has recently lost a significant person that, “He’s in a better place.” Those people are well-meaning, and some in grief may find comfort in those words, but most are screaming inside, “What was wrong with this place?” I cannot imagine using those words in an attempt to provide comfort. The truth is though, that people don’t know what to say, but want to say something. Words cannot fix a gaping wound. Love, compassion, concern, and care can only provide limited comfort.
    Another platitude often heard is that “time heals all wounds.” No! Time only gives you distance from the devastation. It gives you the unwanted opportunity of adjusting to life after the loss. It never makes it okay.
    Grief is a personal journey and no two people grieve in the same way. Your friend who called you after her daughter died was looking for a magic recipe that could take the pain away. And we know, there is no magic recipe. The pain must be felt, the grief process must be gone through. Hearing from others who have gone through it gives a glimmer of hope that you too will survive the devastation, but it’s just a glimmer.
    I have had the honor and privilege as a volunteer at Adam’s Place for Grief of walking alongside people during the darkest moments of their life. As a facilitator, I’ve sat in with all age groups, from five year olds to adults. I’ve witnessed firsthand that people grieve in a variety of ways and the stages of grief ebb and flow. People will be at acceptance and doing really well, crying less frequently, getting back to “normal,” when all of a sudden a grief storm hits and they have to withstand the torrents again.
    Telling the person in grief that you love them and that they’re in your thoughts and prayers is great. Telling them that you’re there for them and only a phone call away probably isn’t very helpful. For them to be able to pick up a phone and reach out to others during this dark time may be impossible. Be there, be present, show up, keep in touch, and allow them to talk. Many people try to not bring up the loss for fear of reminding them of it (as if they could forget). It then becomes the white elephant in the room. Just as I know there are no magic words to take away pain, I also know there is no one right way to help someone through the process.
    The final step in the grieving process is acceptance. I think that’s a good place for those of us who want to provide support. Accept your friend/family member. Accept them through all the stages of grief and loss. Don’t get your feelings hurt. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Try not to offer opinions or insights. Listen, listen, listen, and accept. You can’t fix this, but you can be a fixture that provides love, comfort, acceptance, and support.


    1. Shelly Hickman Avatar
      Shelly Hickman

      Beautifully said, Anya. Thankfully, I’ve never heard anyone say “Everything happens for a reason” in response to something so tragic as loss of a loved one, but it’s something we hear all the time. And if people say that truly believing it, then implicitly they’re saying even the loss of an innocent child happens for a reason, which is unsettling, to put it mildly.

      I agree that our desire to comfort and support often comes out in the form of platitudes we hear so often. As you said, people want to offer something and don’t know what to say.

      “For them to be able to pick up a phone and reach out to others during this dark time may be impossible.” Excellent point. I know in my own experience, I did not seek out support and instead chose to work through my grief privately. Each person’s path is so different.

      How wonderful of you to volunteer your time in such a way. I’d like to know more about Adam’s Place for Grief. I’m going to PM you.

      Thanks for your helpful insights. 🙂


  2. So true Shelly! I am a strong Catholic but will not talk religion at this time. You are right to feel speechless and inept during times like this. What I have learned is that a parents grief is so truly personal that they are virtually on their own to mourn their loss. So much is buried in their grief including incredible regret for things as mundane as not giving them candy when they asked for it, grounding, etc… I had to learn that many times, through my husband, through his ex-wife, my friend Nellie and through my sister. Each lost their child but every single one of them grieved differently as I watched feeling completely useless. There are simply no words to describe it. The most I was able to do was listen, encourage them to eat, and tell them I loved them…….and wait and PRAY.


    1. Shelly Hickman Avatar
      Shelly Hickman

      Exactly, Carmen. Thank you for your thoughts. ♥


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About Me

Las Vegas native, Computer Science teacher, and writer (when the mood strikes). Author of five novels – mostly romantic comedies – available on Amazon and Audible.


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