What do we say then?

What you can say…

So I realized after my last (angry) post I should probably post about some things that have been said to us this last week that have be helpful, or at the very least not hurtful. Let me start off by saying a couple things…

First, I know that sometimes people say things without thinking or thinking they’re being helpful but things don’t come out the way they wanted them to sound. I get that. I stick my foot in my mouth more often than I’d like to admit. I also know that sometimes it depends on what generation you grew up in regarding what is appropriate to say and what’s not. For example, when women lost a baby 40 years ago, it wasn’t talked about, she wasn’t expected to grieve and things like “at least you have 4 healthy kids” were supposed to be comforting.

Second, trying to find the right words to say to a grieving person is tough, especially when it’s the loss of a child. I get that. I understand that awkwardness that comes when you see someone for the first time after they’ve lost someone. You don’t know what you say…you don’t know how to respond and everything you can come up with seems so painfully inadequate. I don’t blame someone for those kind of remarks, I really do understand. My anger towards the comments made to us were coming from the fact that the comments came from someone who usually has a knack for veiling insults in things that sound like compliments…and that same person (who probably doesn’t even read my blog) has been more than vocal enough about our family choices. I just needed to vent…

So…stuff that was helpful…

“I’m sorry”. It was hard for us to know how to respond when someone said I’m sorry. Do you say “thank you?” or “yeah me too”? But either way…having someone say they were sorry at least let us know the person was acknowledging our loss and our grief.

“I have no idea what it must be like for you, but I’m praying for you/thinking of you/I’m sorry”. When I was in nursing school one of the things we were told never to say was “I know just how you feel” unless we really knew what it was like to walk in their shoes. I have had people, who have been through a loss like this, say “I know what it’s like and I’m so sorry”. That’s okay. Really it is to say to someone (at least is was to me). Again, for us, having someone acknowledge the loss and our hurt helped a lot. It was more painful when someone (usually a family member or friend) just wanted to talk about stuff like the weather or Christmas trees or whatever without acknowledging the loss of our son. It was like trying to step around a huge elephant in the room.

“How are you?”…While I didn’t always know how to respond or if the person asking wanted to really know I appreciated being asked. I have a friend who often asks… “How are you…and I really want to know so please tell me”. Along this same line a very dear friend asked “how is Kerry?” or “How are you as a couple” I don’t know why, but I appreciated knowing that someone else was thinking about my husband and how he might be grieving as well as thinking about how we as a couple were grieving. Right after I got out of the hospital, I was worried about how I was going to minister to my husband and kids in the middle of my grief. I was thankful that others were asking Kerry how he was doing and were helping me care for him.

I had a good friend ask me as I was laboring and recovering “how is your heart doing”. She knew how I was doing physically, but she wanted to know how I was coping emotionally. I felt like when she asked me that, I could be totally honest with her and she really wanted to know. I don’t think she knows how much that question meant to me or how much it meant that she was willing to listen to all of the emotions rolling around inside me.

I can’t tell you what a blessing it has been to have friends and church family bring meals this past week. I know it’s not “technically” what to say, but it has been so helpful. We had someone in our church organize someone to bring us meals every evening this past week. To not have to worry about what I was going to feed my family when I couldn’t think straight most of the time was a huge blessing. We has people ask us “what can we do to help?” or “what can we do for you?” The blessing behind those words is that we didn’t feel like we had to reach out and ask for help, we didn’t feel like we might be inconveniencing someone.

We were also fortunate to have family stay with us for a little while. My mom was here with our boys while we were in the hospital. It helped to have her send pictures of the boys while I was laboring and keep us updated about what was happening here at home. I didn’t have to worry about how they were doing. Kerry’s parents came to stay with us for a couple days after we got home. They helped us clean our storage room, play room and garage. Those were things that I wanted to get done, but was never going to have the time or energy for. And it’s so nice this last week to not have those huge projects staring me in the face.

With grief there are no magic words to say that will take it away. There is nothing that feels like the “perfect” thing and there are few people who can sit it total silence and have a complete conversation with you. I am blessed enough to have friends who fill different needs emotionally for me as I move through this part of my life. There are friends who are praying for me even though I hardly ever see them. They’ve emailed and called to ask what they can specifically pray for. I’ve had friends who have sent songs or scripture that they felt lead to send me, and I’ve be blessed by those messages of love and compassion. I’ve had friends who have sent me a message every day to let me know they’re thinking of me and my family. There are those who I can be painfully honest with, they don’t shy away from my grumpiness, anguish, fear or even my tears. I am so thankful for everyone who has done something, no matter how small, to help our family.

I am going to post something we give our first year nursing students helping them learn what to say to a grieving person. Like the sheet says…they’re not necessarily word for word statements, but things that reflect the state of our “heart” towards the hurting person. Regardless of whether you feel like you have a right words…it is easy do know whether the person talking to you is really genuine. You can also find a link to the table below here.

What You Can Say. . .

The following suggestions are not word-for-word statements to make, but rather a reflection of a heart attitude you should have in reaching out to your hurting person.



At a funeral

I’ll always remember…

I’ll come by with dinner tonight.

He’s so much better off in heaven.

If there’s anything I can do, call.

A baby died

I know how much being a mother means to you.

You can always have another one.

Be thankful you have Jenny.

At least you never got to know it.


The future must seem frightening. I’ll stay close.

I’m sure this is a lonely time for you–let’s have lunch.

I never liked the way he treated you.

There are two sides to every story.

Legal crisis

It’s not important what happened. I just want you to know that I care.

Will you lose everything?

Tell me how it happened.

Handicapped child

She has beautiful eyes.

She is so loving and precious.

What are you going to do with her?

If you’d taken better care of yourself, this wouldn’t have happened.

Elderly parent

I know how much you love her, I’m sure you’re doing the right thing.

How could you put your own mother in such a place?

Loss of home

I’ve been a part of some very beautiful memories here.

Remember our home is really in heaven.

Friend moving

I’ve seen what special friends you are. I know you’ll miss each other.

Well, you can always write.

Pet dies

I know she was important to your family. Sometimes this brings back other sad feelings.

It’s only a dog!

You can always buy a new kitten.

During terminal illness

How are you feeling about what you are facing?

I’ll take you to your next doctor’s appointment.

I know a lady who had the same thing…

Won’t you be glad to be with the Lord?

After death of terminally ill

Even though he needed a lot of your time, I know you’ll miss his company.

It must be such a relief now that it’s over.

Death of a spouse

I know how much he meant to you, and how you’ll miss him.

You were so lucky to have him for 30 years.

Loss of a body part

I’m sure this will take a lot of adjustment. I’ll be with you every step of the way.

At least you still have your mind.

Be glad it wasn’t worse.

4 thoughts on “What do we say then?”

  1. This was very well-written, Erin. I had an early loss last year, and people really did say the most insensitive things, usually at the most in appropriate times.

    For what it's worth, I am so sorry for your loss. Knox is just as much a part of your family as the other boys, and I know he will be remembered as such.

    Best wishes to you and Kerry as you travel this path. I do think about you both often.

  2. I saw your lists of do's and dont's and I totally agree, especially the one about divorce. It's so mean when people say things like that, especially when they were supposed to be your friends…it hurts, doesn't it?

  3. Do you have that list in another form, Erin? I'd really like to keep it around. That would really help at times, I know I have had problems with "what to say" or "what is good".

    Very well thought post. You and your family are in my thoughts.

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