From the jump, let me say that I do appreciate people who offer "thoughts and prayers" to people when they grieve. Specifically, I am thankful people have taken a moment to say this salutation to me over the last year of my life living in grief. What I'm hoping to combat by writing this is people who use this as a means of saying "I don't know what to say to you".
In all honesty, I'd rather someone be straight up real with me in regard to their speechlessness than I would to hear "thoughts and prayers". Let's break down "thoughts and prayers" in long-form. "Thoughts" can mean basically the same thing: I am thinking of you during your time of grieving. Someone is saying to you that despite your feelings of loneliness, they are thinking of the situation you're in. While this is, on the surface level, a comfort to some, what I read is "I'm thinking of how hard your life must be now", "I'm thankful I'm not experiencing what Jed's experiencing", "How can anyone live with that type of grief", etc.
You can better understand now why I take no comfort in someone saying they're thinking of me. Without context, the mind wanders. Without specificity, the words mean little more than their face value. Now, let's take "Prayers" and throw some context at it, too. While the notion of praying for someone is a kindness being extended to someone you're assuming needs prayer, the real reach is in the fact that maybe they don't pray to a god or deity, or maybe they don't share the same faith as you do.
What's Christian prayer to a Buddhist? A Jain? An atheist? While I'm a Christian in the sense that I ask for God's help but don't pay my tithes to a man in a $3,000 suit, what good is prayer to an atheist who disbelieves in ritualistic religious faith? Also, I take little comfort in prayer during this period of my life. Life isn't always "shrug it off and ask God for guidance". God's not here walking in this body with these feelings. I barely find comfort in people I can touch, let alone an invisible deity with enough supposed power to stop death and fighting. So, the crux is that I have to believe we've done these things to ourselves, and when it fits within the larger construct of my time on Earth, maybe at some point God'll wave his fingers about and remove this dullness of heart inside me because of numerous pitfalls I've experienced.
The notion of praying for someone also doesn't hold a lot of weight when the prayer isn't actually performed. Now, this is the most speculative moment in my thinking in that how disrespectful would I be if I asked someone if they were explicitly remembering to pray for me? Right, I'd be a real jerk. What I'm saying is sometimes this phrase is little more than a phrase, period. No real thoughts, or prayers, are being sent toward the person it's being directed toward.
I've had several people wish me "thoughts and prayers", and I'll give us all a moment of pause to wait for them to miraculously contact me right now after gifting me the notion several months ago...
Right, even after that brief pause, I've still not been contacted after the initial notion. There's this ideology that "I don't know what else to say", so the internet lexicon has deemed appropriate the use of "thoughts and prayers" as the ultimate in intangible and unproveable salutations. It's like a verbal/written hoodwink to those who are suffering. Is the notion kind? Yes. Is it thoughtful? Hardly. Instead of wishing "thoughts and prayers", say "I don't know what to say, but I've got a hug for you the next time I see you", or "You can overcome, I believe in you".
It is fallacy to believe that you are "speechless", unless you are physically mute or otherwise incapable of forming thought. I'm not coming from a standpoint where I'd want "thoughts and prayers" salutations to cease from my life. In a way, it does add some level of comfort. What I'm saying is that we are all much more than "thoughts and prayers" types. If we can talk small about the weather, we can say a little more to those grieving. I make a practice of saying "I know how you feel", "I have experienced this and I empathize", or "I love you" before I will ever say "thoughts and prayers" to someone who has experienced loss.
"Thoughts and prayers" don't take the bullets back. They don't remove the desperation from an already dead suicide victim, nothing will. They don't say enough, most times. They don't comfort nonbelievers. They don't mean much without real thoughts and real declarations of care. Words aren't going to un-die someone, no. Specificity will help ease people's pains. I urge anyone reading to open up a little more to those grieving. They most likely will be thankful.