Rainbows make terrible bandaids.

Smiley faces, rainbow memes, sunrises and doves – the sentiment behind the images might be nice, but rainbows make terrible bandaids for what hurts.

Earlier this week, I watched a very intense, very moving, video by a man whose daughter had been murdered.

As I watched, I thought of all the pain I witness every day, all the pain I know exists. All the pain I don’t know about, yet it exists. Some days, the weight of heartbreak in this world, the weight of everything wrong and twisted and scary and painful – it just gets to me.

I wouldn’t change what I do for anything, and I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but still. Sometimes, my heart is just massively broken. So, that night, I posted a tweet saying roughly these things, in under 140 characters.

When I got up the next morning, I noticed a reply to my tweet that said, “keep looking up, that way you’ll see rainbows.”

You mention that the pain of the world is heavy in your heart today, and someone tells you to look for rainbows. As though that will fix everything.

This is everything that’s wrong with “grief support” in our culture. It’s a complete and total fail: of empathy, of attention, of love. Not to pick on this one person too much, and in fact they’re far, far, far from the only one to lay such useless tripe on top of pain, but for real – we need a massive overhaul in how we come to pain in this culture.

If rainbows hold meaning for you personally, that’s beautiful. However, telling someone to look for the gift, or to look for beauty, doesn’t relieve their pain. It only tells them they should look somewhere else for support. 

Platitudes solve nothing. Noticing beauty, while valid in its own right, does not do a damn thing to mitigate pain, when pain is what is. One of my favorite poets, Joanna Macy, writes: “that your world is in pain is no reason to turn your back on it.” She’s referring to environmental devastation, but it works for grief as well.

That your world is in pain, that your heart is broken beyond repair, is no reason to turn your back on it. That you witness great pain in someone you care about, that it’s hard for you to bear, is no reason to turn your back on them – which is what we do when we ladle on a useless platitude. Trying to make things better, we just make things worse.

Rainbows are awesome, but they won't solve anyone's pain. Click To Tweet

Pain is hard. Being alive will break your heart – in small ways, in large ones, in irreparable ones. And that’s okay. That you hurt when life hurts doesn’t make you wrong. You don’t need to be talked out of your pain. You don’t need to be “cheered up.”

You just need to be heard. It’s that simple. Acknowledgement is everything: sometimes things just hurt. Rainbows might be pretty companions, but they aren’t a cure for anything.


grief support that doesn't suckWhat’s your experience with this stuff, my readers? Have you had the rainbow cure applied to you? If so, how’d that land for you? Did you say something about the relative uselessness of such a phrase, or did you just let it slide?