When We Don’t know what to Say



My Dad died 13 years ago.

He suffered from bone marrow cancer

for 4 long years before that.

I learned a few things during the illness,

the funeral and the strange process

that followed called, “grief.”



I learned to hate the phrase,

How’s your Dad?”

and later, “How have you been doing?”

They cared. Most people truly cared, but didn’t know what to say.

So they asked a question. MOST times I’m all for question-asking,

but not during these times.

When someone wades through heartache & grief they never

know when their emotions are gunna wanna spill out. Being put on

the spot to give a report on your sick loved-one or heart-broken family

(or self) can actually add to the pain of the moment. It can even feel

like the person asking the question is selfish. Sometimes they are.

Sometimes people just want the lastest info…. but mostly people

just really want you to know that they care!  So why don’t we just SAY THAT!

“I CARE!” or

You’ve been on my mind all week.”


“I’ve been praying that you’d find

extra strength in Jesus this week.”

Stuff like that leaves the other person encouraged and gives

them the opportunity to say nothing!  OR to say something if

they would like. No pressure. No selfishness.


Sometimes a GOOD, CLOSE friend needs to look a friend in the

eye and ask, “How ARE you? And that close friend has earned the

right to ask. That’s another story.

TOMORROW I’ll post OTHER ways to encourage someone in these situations.

If you’ve experienced an extremely painful situation and/or loss and have

thoughts to share… please feel free.


11 thoughts on “When We Don’t know what to Say

  1. This is SO right. When my father passed away I was really off-kilter for a while. Some questions were just exhausting and made me feel like I owed the person a response. The most effective thing anyone did (and I’ll never forget it) is give me a real, long, tight hug. I don’t everyone can do that – but a particular person really knew that I needed it.

  2. this bit of advice could not have come at a better time for me. My ex-husband and the father of my two children passed away last week. It has been a really hard time for me and for my children. People keep saying things and I know they care but it doesn’t help. Sometimes just being silent is the best medicine. Thanks for sharing.

    Love you cuz,

    • Reina, I’m so sorry that you’re walking through such a difficult time. Thank you for being honest and for giving us a chance to pray for you & kids. Jesus knows exactly what you need. HUGS!

  3. I agree… Hugs are amazing. Random stares are not. 😉 A flippant “how are you” where you can tell they just want to hear you say “good” doesn’t help, but when someone looks you in the eyes and really wants to know how you’re doing and sincerely wants to listen, that helps me. When grieving, I want(ed) to talk about it. To know someone is remembering the loss when the rest of the world has seemed to move on, that means a lot. And definitely when someone tells me they’ve been praying for me (especially with a random text or note, etc.), that really helps. Grieving is a very sensitive time, and I think you learn best what to do when others are grieving after going through a trying time yourself.

  4. This is good. So practical. One thing from experience, is just be normal… Don’t stare at them trying to figure out how they are, don’t wait for them to look sad,and don’t look depressed, yourself when you see them! Smile, they need you. Hug them, and maybe pray with them, instead of having that awkward conversation. ? They need us, not some weird version of us. Just my two cents on top of solid advice.

  5. GREAT advice! Thanks for sharing! I like notes. It’s a nice way to let them know you care and are available if they need to talk. It also gives them the option to NOT read it right away.

    My cousin went through a long illness with her dad and then with her mom. Everyone always asked how they were doing. I found that she would volunteer the info if it was important that I know. In the mean time, it helped her if we asked about other real-life things that were going on in her life. It helped her to stay motivated to participate in life even while she was struggling. While the illness did consume a lot of time and energy, it did not consume her LIFE. That went on.

    Thanks again for solid advice and honest insight!

  6. Netta…this is so good and honest! Hugs to you! I trust that some day I will be able to handle my own ongoing grief w/ as much poise, grace and wisdom as you have offered in these posts.

    Those who’ve just shared a memory, or tell me when they are thinking of my mom or just hugged and/or cried with me have blessed me more than they’ll ever know.

    People who haven’t experienced grief often don’t know what to do with it… So I’m understanding and grace-filled to the those who have offered trite sentiment or “not the appropriate time” comments (i.e. the Sunday I returned to church – one week after she died- a woman running excitedly down the hall exclaiming “Your mom’s with Jesus now!!!” I wanted to yell, “Yeah, that’s great. But she was only 50 and I’m only 32. I want her here with me …my kids are never going to remember her!” But of course I didn’t. I smiled and hugged her. 🙂

    Thank you!

  7. I agree that it’s hard to know what to say when a friend loses a family member. When my father passed away I think the phrase I came to hate was, “at least he’s not in pain any more.” This is totally true, he’s not in pain any more (Praise GOD!!), but somehow it just seemed to make it worse. I don’t really know why that is…

    I agree that most times, the best thing to do is give hugs and let your friend know that you are there for them, day or night. Offer to pray for them and/or with them. Let them know that you are available if/when they are ready to talk about it. Just let them know you love them. 🙂

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