What Do You Say?

Words have been difficult for me to express lately. Normally I don’t struggle too much with words, but honestly, right now, I don’t know what to say. The past few weeks have been weeks of extreme highs and extreme lows. The high points: My daughter’s volleyball team won second place in the district playoffs, and advanced to the state playoffs. This same daughter landed her first job, and both of my girls made the honor roll. The extreme lows: The father of two of the girls on the volleyball team lost his battle with cancer, and on that very same day, we lost our precious five year old niece. Two weeks ago we had been informed that this gentleman was in his last days, but we had no idea that our niece was also experiencing her last days on this earth.

So what do you say? How do you tell your daughters that their friend’s father has passed away? Furthermore, how do you turn around a few hours later and inform them that their sweet young cousin has died unexpectedly? And how do you comfort those who are mourning? This is where I am stuck. I mean are there any good words of comfort to be spoken to someone who has suddenly lost their child? For that matter, are there any good words to say to anyone who has just lost someone? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

Probably the worst thing to do is ignore the issue. We have an open discussion policy at our house, which means any topic is open for discussion at any time. However, that doesn’t mean that I will have all the answers or even feel like discussing the topic. But it does mean that you can ask the questions; even the tough ones. This hasn’t always been the case. I remember the Kindergarten teacher that I ran into many years ago. We happened to be in the bathroom at the same time. She looked at me puzzled and said, “I don’t get it. All these kids think this sanitary pad dispenser is a candy dispenser and every time I bring them in here they want to put money in the slot and get some candy.” I just kind of smiled and shrugged my shoulders as if I didn’t have a clue where they got that idea. That was the last time I tried to weasel out of a discussion with my kids. Yes, I was the one who told my own girls that machine was a candy dispenser, because I didn’t want to discuss the facts with them. I thought they were too young. And maybe they were, but I could have had a discussion with them and given them simple terminology rather than a fictitious application. I never thought that the candy dispenser theory would be shared with their classmates.

But losses are hard, and sometimes people just don’t have the words to speak. Perhaps words are not always necessary. Maybe less really is more, and your presence of being near is more than enough at the moment. I can think back to my college days when a friend would find her way to my room. I would be knee deep into homework, but that was ok. She’d pick up the newspaper, sit down, and neither one of us would speak more than a few words. Later on she’d leave, but thanked me for just letting her hang out in my room. I guess you could say we had an understanding that words weren’t necessary. I’m not a believer in, “Just say something!” Sometimes good intentions can be verbalized in a way that comes out completely wrong. I am sure that I have said my fair share of words that were meant for healing, but came across as wounding or sounding like I was a fool. So during these past few days I’ve tried to choose my words very carefully. Perhaps the tears that I have shed have been a blessing because they have expressed more than words ever could. And the words that I have spoken in an attempt to comfort the grieving have softly squeaked out as “I am so sorry” and “I love you.”

Many years ago Reba McEntire recorded the song “What Do You Say?”  The first four lines of the chorus are:

“What do you say in a moment like this?

When you can’t find the words to tell it like it is.

Just close your eyes and let your heart lead the way.

Oh, what do you say?”

Over the past few days I have had to do more than close my eyes and let my heart lead. Because my mind has been wrestling with these events, my brain just hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. I’ve had to pray a lot about the words I should speak. While I have never lost a child, as a mother, my heart aches for my sister-in-law. There will be a void that can never be completely filled, and a part of her life will always be missing. The same can be said in regards to my students who lost their devoted father, and their mother who lost her beloved husband. For everyone else, the days continue on somewhat normally. Time passes on, and life resumes. And yet after a loss, the lives of those left behind have been forever altered in the blink of an eye. So I don’t want to be the person who speaks foolish wisdom to either family during this grieving process. I also don’t want to dismiss their grief, or ignore their pain or the circumstances surrounding the passing of their loved one. I want to be supportive as they walk through this process. And as such I will need to pray for words of wisdom to lovingly speak at the right times. This is exactly what I am doing as I type this post.

There are so many people in this world who are hurting right now because of a recent loss in their family. Grief is real, and grief is painful. I honestly don’t have any magic words to say to those who are hurting that will make the pain go away. But I do want to share with you the same words that my heart whispered on the day I embraced my family members and friends as we said our earthly goodbyes to loved ones. My heart softly spoke to those hurting, “I am so very sorry.” At the same time my brain whispered, “I pray that you allow yourself time to walk through the grieving process, and that each day you feel the love of Jesus wrapping you up in His arms, holding you close, and soothing your hurting spirit.” For anyone who is grieving, today I speak these same words for you.

If you happen to fall into the category of not knowing what to say to someone or do for someone who is in the midst of grieving, please don’t avoid the issue. You can’t fix this. The loss can’t be undone. However, you can listen. You can spend time with them, share a meal with them, and allow them to remember times gone by. You can say, “I care” by giving them time to walk through this grief process.  And you can pray for God to comfort them in such a way that they feel wrapped up in His arms. These simple gestures from friends may very well make all of the difference in the world to those who are hurting.

4 thoughts on “What Do You Say?

  1. I’m a big advocate for keeping the lines of communication open between my daughters, about anything and everything. Within reason, of course. When my son died, I made sure to tell her as much as she wanted and I made sure that she knew she could always ask me about anything and no question was too silly. I think this helped a lot.


    • Thank you for your response. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your son, and recognize that walking through this is not easy for you or your family. I commend you for keeping the lines of communication open with your daughters.


  2. This is really insightful. Having been a hospice nurse for many years, I have walked with many an individual and family through the grieving process. I have been formally educated and coached on what to say and what not to say. Jill, you captured the essence of a Godly response in your last paragraph. When we have hearts of compassion, lead by the Holy Spirit, are willing to listen and not talk, we can minister to others. That applies to anyone who is dealing with any kind of loss. I keep praying, Lord, help me to listen more and talk a lot less today. Amazing how that calms the spirit and provides just what is needed. Blessings to you and your family as you grieve the loss of your niece.


    • Hello Char – I appreciate your comments. Listening is a skill that is difficult to master, but is worth the effort. I’m still working on learning this skill on so many levels. Fortunately, God is a patient teacher.


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