Relationships

What to Say to a Grieving Friend

What to Say to a Grieving Friend

Patrick O’Malley, a Texas-based grief therapist who lost his infant son, wrote a beautiful, beautiful Modern Love essay a couple years ago. This month, he came out with the book Getting Grief Right about how each person’s grief experience is different — and everyone’s story is worth telling. As I was devouring the book, one part that stood out was a list of what to say (and NOT say) when consoling a friend. Here’s his sage advice…


What NOT to say

O’Malley points out that these sayings imply that there is timetable for grief:
“Time heals all wounds”
“You have to move on”
“Grief happens in stages”
“I hope you find closure”

These next phrases, he points out, are by-products of a culture that rewards positivity:
“He wouldn’t want you to be sad”
“It’s important to stay busy and productive”
“This will make you stronger”
“You have your whole life ahead of you”
“At least you’re young enough to have another child/remarry”

And these religious thoughts might imply that a faithful person should not mourn:
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”
“God has a plan”
“Everything happens for a reason”
“He/she is in a better place”
“It was her/his time to go”

Also, ‘my thoughts and prayers are with you’ and ‘Let me know if there is anything I can do’ are two phrases that are said so often that the words have lost meaning, says O’Malley: “Comedian George Carlin imagined a bereaved person replying, ‘Yeah, you can come over this weekend and paint my garage.'”


What to do and say

Here are some of O’Malley’s wonderful ideas of ways to help:
– Simply say, “I’m very sorry.”
– Bring a meal on the two-month anniversary of a death.
– Send an email to say you were thinking about the grieving person or the one they lost.
– When you are with the bereaved person, say the name of the one they lost. Grieving people love hearing it from the lips of someone else.
– Don’t assume there is a timeline to grief. An email a year after a loss could be more meaningful than one a week later.
– Remember the bereaved on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries or any day that you know has special meaning.
– Offer to visit, but always let the choice be that of the bereaved person. Offer, “I completely understand if the timing is not good.”
– Be curious about the grieving person’s relationship to the one they lost. Try one of the following —
“I don’t know how you and Suzy met. Can you tell me?”
“I know the two of you loved to travel. What was your favorite trip?”
“What do you miss most about him?”
“How are you doing today?”
“We’ve never really talked about the day it happened. I’d like to hear about it, if you’re able.”
“I am sorry I did not get to meet your dad. I would love for you to tell me something about him.”

– Bring up your own memories.
– Offer to listen to a grieving person’s story. A bereaved person might be looking for a safe set of ears, a place for the story to land.
– Above all, make sure they know that the one they lost has not been forgotten.


Asking questions about the person who died would be a wonderful gesture. And I also appreciate that O’Malley points out that you don’t have to feel like something’s wrong with you if you aren’t “over it” within a period of time — or if you’re laughing and feeling joy sooner than you expected. My friend Gemma, who lost her father three years ago, says that grief felt like carrying a huge bag of bricks: “At first, I thought, ‘I’m not strong enough to carry this much grief; it will kill me.’ But as time passed, the bag got lighter and lighter. I can’t ever put the bag down, it is with me forever, but now I’m strong enough to carry it. And I can carry other people’s bags, too.”

Is there anything you’d add to these lists? Sending a hug to anyone who is missing someone today. xoxo

P.S. Thoughts on grief, and how to write a condolence note.

(Photo by Elif; illustration by Christopher David Ryan. Excerpted from Getting Grief Right, by Patrick O’Malley and written with Tim Madigan. Published by Sounds True, July 2017. Reprinted with permission.)

  1. This is so helpful and I wish I had known this two months ago, my boyfriend’s father sadly passed away, who I hadn’t got the chance to meet and even though he’s my boyfriend and I love him and I just didn’t know what to say to him, in case I said something wrong and upset him more. I don’t think anyone really knows what to say to a grieving person friend or family, it’s one of life’s hardest times to deal with.

  2. Two of the best pieces of advise I ever received about dealing with someone who is mourning is to: offer help (ideally specific help. This is also true for people who just had a baby. It takes the pressure off of them to come up with something, and people are reluctant to actually ask for things) and to never say something to the effect of “I know what its like.” Even if you lost a husband and they just lost a husband, it can never be the same. Every person who died is an individual and each mourner is an individual and that makes it unique. Share what you knew of the deceased instead. Also- unless you know the mourners’ religious ideas intimately, don’t say anything about faith or God.

  3. Cam says...

    When my dad died two years ago, we were very lucky to have so many friends and family come by our home. But, that also meant that there were so many people IN OUR HOME that we started running out of paper towels and toilet paper quicker than we had ever in the past. Now, when a friend has a death, I always send them tissues, paper towels and toilet paper. It’s not a glamorous gift, but it says nice to not have to run out and buy them yourself when everything is falling apart.

  4. Edelmira says...

    This is helpful. My family lost a sister/daughter/mother best friend any of us ever had 4 yrs ago (july 20, 2013) she is the best. It was the worst.

  5. Katie says...

    I strongly agree with keeping religion out of it. While it may make you feel better to think God (or whatever deity you believe in) is looking over the one who died or even the grieving, you truly have no idea what the grieving person believes or is feeling in the moment. No matter how close you are. Twenty years later, I’m still bothers me that my own mom brought up God in a conversation about the death of my close friend. Just because I was raised Christian doesn’t mean I necessarily believe in those concepts. And, even for Christians, the grieving person may be mad at God. It’s common. Indeed, there’s a whole line of books on “when God doesn’t make sense” that have been written for the grieving. So, please, even for the devout, don’t mention God unless the grieving person raises him (her) first.

  6. I understand you are grieving. ____ lives in your memories. I am always here to listen.

  7. Carla says...

    This was very helpful as I sit at home today to mark one year since Dad died. My sisters and I live far apart, and none of us live near Mom. It is especially hard because she grew up having learned, and subsequently taught us to hide emotions, unless it is happiness. I use many of these phrases, but I know most of her local support system is her generation, so she probably hears the unhelpful stuff more often. Her progress is slow, and I am devastated to be physically away. The bag of bricks is the perfect description. They had a big big love and I can’t even imagine how heavy her bricks are.

  8. Laura says...

    On another note unrelated to grief but still related to treating people with kindness, I was wondering if the CoJ team would consider a post on how to be a more decent person to/around people with disabilities. I hope this doesn’t come out as offensive, but I’m ignorant on the matter and would love to learn more from the perspective of someone who has first-hand experience, or from someone related to a person with disabilities. I know (or think) it’s not like I should assume a special treatment, but I’m just wondering for day-to-day occurrences, like if a child asks about it out loud, if someone gets too close to personal space, etc. There have been instances where it didn’t feel right to just “ignore” it, so any type of guidance could give more insight.

    Also, I’m sorry if anything I said was offensive. If it was, I’d like to know it. I have an open mind and would love to have a better approach on this topic.

    • Leanne says...

      Laura, I was thinking the same thing the other day! Not about Cup of Jo, but I was Googling how to act around someone with a disabled child.

      An acquaintance of ours has a young son with some severe and visible disabilities, and I’m so afraid that I’m going to say something offensive – I always end up saying nothing because I don’t want to offend even inadvertently (pleasantries I’d say to other parents, like: “he’s getting so big” seem off), and then I worry that I’m not acknowledging their little boy enough!

      Martha Beck has written some beautiful things about her son, Adam, but I don’t want to assume that this couple feels the same way about their son.

    • Val says...

      I think this is a GREAT idea!
      I’m disable so I’m all about bringing awareness and creating visibility (as we often tend to be ignored).
      Disabilities come in so many different ways, visible and not, but for starters:
      -Never assume someone disability or what they can and cannot do.
      -Asking is so important and most of the time we don’t really mind. You should always ask, as long as you’re respectful and nice (as one should be to any other living thing), it’s all good.
      -Offer help. Sometimes the city or places are not designed to be disable-people-friendly, so we have a hard time opening doors (especially if we are in wheelchairs and other devices) or getting through tight spaces and halls, and things like that.
      -Don’t be sorry for us! or belittle us, or treat us like a child. That’s just plain rude. If I don’t feel sorry for myself, then why should you.
      -Don’t push your beliefs to people. It’s great if you are a religious person, but please don’t tell me i should trust god’s plans, or to pray to be cured or anything like that, especially if the disable people just told you is not really religious. Honestly, it’s exhausting being nice to people that want to save you through their religious beliefs.
      -Treat us the same way you would treat someone else, depending on the situation. For example: A disable kid like a kid, a disable stranger like a stranger, a disable person next in line like a disable person next in line, and so on…
      And most importantly, if you really want to know more about how to treat a disable person, befriend a disable person.

      These are just a few things at the top of my head, but I hope it helps you. :)

  9. Nellie says...

    I’m a Quaker and when someone is in need or suffering you ‘hold them in the light.’ As a child, I used to imagine someone wrapped up in a blanket of warmth and light. Now, as an adult, I always reach out to someone who is suffering a loss and tell them I am holding them in the light. I find it to be a non-religious way to show your warmth and support.

    Recently my aunt passed away suddenly and my uncle, her husband, went to Meeting for Worship alone two days later. At Meeting he stood up and shared his loss. Another man then stood up from where he sat, walked over and sat next to my uncle. Then one by one each member of the Meeting stood up and sat next to him, surrounding him, in silence, for the rest of the time. I’m not sure if that makes sense if you aren’t familiar with Quakerism but it truly is holding someone in the light.

    • Joanna says...

      I might cry. That’s is so beautiful.

  10. jess says...

    It gets even more complicated if you have lost a loved one to suicide. My mom killed herself 8 years ago and people shy away from my grief because the suicide compounds the aversion to talking about death. No matter how you lost someone, acknowledge their grief and allow them to express it.

    • Anonymous says...

      Yes, I feel the same. Our son, 16 years old completed suicide. People have no idea what our family goes through now. Old friends are gone, but I guess they were not our friends anyway. We try to start a new life with people who lost children the same way. They can understand our pain and grief.

  11. Maxi says...

    Thank you. Finally.
    I am not religious and have always hated the whole ‘God has a plan’ thing. Oh, really, it was God’s plan to let a child die? Or, it is God’s plan to let my spouse wither away in agony?
    Also, the time thing. There is no ‘now you should be over it’ – you will get better at handling it, but there will be times and occasions where that person’s absence will hurt deeply, and that’s okay.
    A simple ‘I am so f****ing sorry’ (sometimes swearing is cathartic and actually makes you laugh at that moment) is more meaningful than any ‘prayers’. No prayers, please. Get off your butt and do something for that person.
    When my mom died unexpectedly while I was studying abroad. My sister called me in the middle of the night in tears and said ‘mom died’. I remember calling my best friend, bawling my eyes out, and she said ‘oh honey, I am so sorry. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’.
    A girl from Uni I wasn’t even that close with heard about it, called me and offered me a ride from the airport. Then she cursed and cried with me.
    I still love her for that.

  12. Amy says...

    Such a great post, thank you.

    I lost my husband and my young daughters lost their father suddenly and tragically just before Christmas. My ‘don’t’ list would definitely include a lot of the great suggestions from the post and commenters and I would also include:

    Please don’t wear strong perfumes/aftershaves when visiting the grieved. I really appreciated all the hugs in those early days but felt sick by the end of the day being covered in so many different perfume scents. It lingered in my hair and clothes and didn’t smell familiar or feel right.

    As for the ‘do’s’:

    Please mention their name and tell stories. It’s so therapeutic. You can’t upset me by reminding me he is gone – there’s not a second that I am not thinking of him and those stories take my mind to happy memories.

    Do something helpful. Don’t just offer open assistance. Think carefully about what would help…a case of wine left on the doorstep, a bulk pack of toilet paper to help with all the visitors (this one was greatly appreciated and saved me a trip to the supermarket when I least felt like it!), fresh milk and teabags, grab the ironing and return it pressed, buy a voucher for a memory book which they can put together when the time is right etc. A friend of mine organised a sign for the front door with her phone number so all the generous meal offerings could be co-ordinated – we were still eating lasagne 6 months later but at least it didn’t go to waste early on.

    I think until you have been through your own grief or trauma you really don’t know the right thing to do or say, but in my experience some people just ‘get it’ more than others. Surround yourself with those people.

  13. Kara says...

    When my son died (precious first and only at-that-time grandchild) a friend of my mom’s took her shopping and helped her choose an outfit for the funeral. Clothes are really the last thing you want to be thinking about and yet it’s strangely comforting to feel put-together and appropriately dressed at such an occasion. The friend had lost her son a few years earlier and was kind to pass on her experience and help, and my mom was deeply touched and grateful.

  14. Anne U. says...

    I have never commented before, although I love reading every.single.post — even when it’s been weeks and I have to slowly catch up on all that I have missed! :) I felt compelled to write tonight, though, because this is a topic so near and dear to my heart after spending much of the last four years in the deep trenches of grief.

    In addition to three miscarriages, my husband and I lost our firstborn daughter, Ava, a day after she was born. To say that we were simply heartbroken feels so trite and incomplete when I look back at the enormity of our devastation. And yet, I think that is a poignant representation of how deep grief really works. It’s too vast, too complicated, too far-reaching to wholly and fully comprehend or express in words if you’ve never walked through it. And I think that’s something I would share to ease people’s fear and understandable awkwardness when trying to decide if they should say anything at all to one who is brokenhearted. I would say “YES”…a thousand times over. And it is totally okay if you have no idea what to say! Less is so much more when it comes to words of bereavement anyway, I think. For the truth is, I have never expected someone to say something so profound and new to me that suddenly my perspective changed and my burden was lifted. Only time, grief counseling, and my relationship with the Lord have been able to bring the gentle winds of lasting comfort to my heart. My friends were so dear…but there was just nothing they could say to make it all better. But they could certainly make it worse by either not saying anything at all or by trying to say too much. Three years later, the ache for my Ava girl is no less palpable, but new joys and laughter and gratitude have ushered in beautiful additions to our home. And so I think if people could realize that simply acknowledging the pain and years later acknowledging that deep sorrow and deep joy still coexist in the heart of one who has tasted deep loss, that would be such comfort to grieving souls.

    As a practical side note, I found it so difficult after giving birth to a healthy baby girl a year after Ava died, when people would imply that our sadness must be lessened because Gracie was now in our arms. To be sure, she has brought ENORMOUS joy to our family…but we are wildly aware that no other child (including the one I’m carrying right now!) will ever replace our Ava. I am always so thankful when people acknowledge that while we may have our arms full with little ones in one sense, our family will always be incomplete this side of heaven. I am at peace with that reality, and I always take a deep breath when people don’t try and wrap up our story with a neat little bow. A simple text on Ava’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day means more to me than my friends will ever know…for those days will forever be bittersweet in a quiet, unseen way. When a thoughtful friend simply acknowledges that fact, it always feels like a little nudge to propel me forward…to keep loving, living, and opening my heart to the goodness in this world, knowing I’m cared for and loved despite the messiness of my heart.

    Lastly, I often smile when people hesitate and say, “I hope I’m not going to make you sad by reminding you…” before mentioning something about either our miscarriages or our journey with Ava, and while I feel so loved at their thoughtful concern, I always inwardly think about how a mama’s heart doesn’t simply forget about one of her children. I carry the deep joy and the deep sadness of my losses wherever I go…and it is such a sweet thing when I hear my biggest girl’s name mentioned. Or when someone isn’t afraid to acknowledge the quieter losses in our story…the three little ones we never got to meet. I am always profoundly grateful.

    SORRY for the monologue over here…just wanted to encourage someone who might need a gentle nudge to step out and whisper a simple, “I’m so sorry” to a soul in need…oh what a gift it is.

    What a beautiful space you’ve created, Joanna. Thank you for letting me share.

    • Emily says...

      So well said. Thank you so much for sharing – from one mourner to another.

    • Claire says...

      Thanks so much for your honest and encouraging post, Anne. My cousin (who’s like a sister to me) and her husband lost their daughter, Faith, in the womb on the day she was due last October. In the months following, while my cousin was on maternity leave, it seemed appropriate/ natural to go over, be with her, listen while she talked and cried. Now she’s back at work and will soon be starting the process of trying for another child. I’m often unsure of when to talk about Faith or to wait for her to do so. So, thank you for sharing your story.

    • Michelle says...

      Agreed – very well said, and I’m so sorry for your loss (also from another mourner to another…) In Canada, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network (PAIL) has created a resource for care providers on what to say, and what not to say. I think it’s a good tool for anyone who interacts with a grieving parent: https://pailnetwork.sunnybrook.ca/healthcare-professionals/best-practices/

    • Kat says...

      What a beautiful monologue this is! I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so that well captures the love a mother has for her child/ren and grieving a deep loss all at the same time. What beautiful words, thank you for taking the time to type this as it has brought me so much comfort x

  15. Rose says...

    I lost my dad suddenly in February. I dropped him off at the airport for a trip to FL and he passed away on the plane. I replay the day over and over.

    My husband had a work trip a week later and my friends took turns showing up so I was never alone that week. Now 6 months later, it means so much when someone remembers him and brings it up to me.

    A family friend sent me a card on Father’s Day acknowledging how hard the day must have been and said she knows my dad is looking down on me everyday. I felt such a release after reading it. It filled a little bit of the loneliness of the day and made up for some of the silence.

  16. Elizabeth says...

    I lost my mother in January, and it hurts — it’s hard for me to imagine it never will hurt. Here’s a couple of observations I’ve picked up:

    1. My s-i-l told me that when her father died and she waited for her flight to return home, she felt so set apart and different. She realized why Victorians in mourning wore black arm bands: it alerted society that you aren’t ready to fully engage with the world. And that’s exactly how I felt for the first months — it isn’t just missing my mom, but how do I live the rest of my life w/o her?

    2. A few days ago I had lunch with one of the kindest people I know, and when I told her that I had many regrets about caring for my mother, she said, “You were heroic — don’t feel that you didn’t do enough.” She may be right, and I’m not trying to wear a hairshirt, but it would almost help me more if people would allow me to work through the feelings of sadness that I wasn’t as attentive as I could have been. So I would add that in the “do not say this” column — don’t reassure people that they did all they could, because unless you’re part of the family or household, you probably don’t know, no matter how good your intentions are.

    I really appreciate this column from COJ –thank you so much.

    • Cinders says...

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother. Losing one’s mother is such a primal loss leaving us forever changed.
      I agree with your observation on mourning clothes. When my mother died it felt as if the world had shifted on its axis. I wished that I could wear black to signal to the world that I was still negotiating the path of grief. That path cannot be rushed or ignored.

  17. Eithel says...

    I have 3 deaths in my family since this year begins.The last one was 2 weeks ago.Ive never met this cousin,however when my mom called to say she had just passed minutes ago,I asked what she died from to my suprise she asked if I never know this person was sick and to tell me thats how close im to family.What do you say to some thing like this.What got to me I saw the brother on FB and asked how was the family since they lived in the UK and im in Canada he said every one was fine,then my mom said his sister died.Can you mourn someone you have never met.

  18. Becky says...

    My sweet son died 15 months ago. Six weeks after he died a friend called and said that I really didn’t have it so bad, at least I still had a husband, daughter, and grandson. I’ve never talked to her since that day.
    I hate it when people preface their comments with “At least.” At least he didn’t suffer, at least he didn’t leave behind a family, at least it was fast and so on. My 36 year old disabled son lived at home with his dad and me. I found him dead in his bed on April 18, 2016 and my world has been shattered. Until I suffered this great loss I’m ashamed to say that I was guilty of saying some of the thoughtless phrases to those grieving. Never again.

    • Barbara says...

      I’m so sorry. What a tremendous loss.

    • Laura C. says...

      Becky I’m so sorry. Sending a big hug.

    • Oh Becky, I am so sorry to hear about your son and that you had to experience such a tragedy. What a brave woman you are!

  19. Kelly says...

    Don’t underestimate the power of a simple hug, and don’t be afraid to laugh – especially when sharing stories about the one who was lost.

  20. Jessica says...

    Just returning to COJ after two weeks unplugged and this couldn’t be more timely. I lost a best friend in early July. She was 34, died on her young son’s birthday, and is honestly the loveliest person. I’m so crushed and am balancing my own grief with that of her husband and family. The best things people have said to me are “there are no words” “there is no reason” “I am just so sorry, that’s all” and to tell me their sweet memories of her. A few people have also sent me photographs of her that I did not have and while that brings tears to my eyes, it also brings back joy.

  21. Lindsay says...

    One of the things that I found difficult when my mom died was that I felt like my grief made people feel uncomfortable. People don’t like to talk about death or the dead. I think this is the most honest take on how to talk to someone who is grieving. Two years later I still love to talk about my mom, laugh about her, and cry about her. It means something to me when people bring her up in their own stories or ask me questions about her. I hope we all learn to talk more openly about death because everyone will be affected by it in some way or another.

  22. Thank you for this post! I also really loved Sheryl Sandberg’s book on grief. One of the hardest things is the time after the funeral/memorial service. Everyone goes back to life and then never talks to you about it again. It’s devastating.

    • dotinthecity says...

      I agree that right after the funeral was the toughest. You’re all alone when all the mourners leave. Everyone goes back to their lives, and expects you to do so as well. But. You can never go back – because it will never be the same. My mother passed away 18 years ago and I still remember how overwhelmingly painful that moment was, I couldn’t breathe; it felt like I was drowning.

  23. liz says...

    The week after my dad died, a cousin called me and after quickly saying how shocked she was that my dad had died, she got to the point of her call which was to let me know she had published a book. My aunt called that week too and yelled at me that she should have been informed of his passing before his children because she was his sister. I suggest those both be added to the Don’t column.
    In the Do column, another cousin gave me the best hug of my life at my dad’s memorial. I still think about how enveloped and safe I felt when he wrapped his arms around me. Also, I loved hearing stories about him from neighbors, friends, customers.

  24. Nora says...

    When my uncle died from lung cancer, people would say “I wish he’d taken better care of himself so he could be around for his kids.” His kids were pre-teens at the time, and imagine the message they’re getting from comments like this. I was so enraged!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh, I would be seething. I’m so sorry to hear that, Nora!

  25. My dad died suddenly almost two months ago. I most appreciate it when people share a memory they had of my father with me. From now on, I won’t have the opportunity to form any new memories of him, so hearing other people’s memories is almost like experiencing him again.

    • Rose says...

      My dad died suddenly in February and I feel the same way. <3

  26. KM says...

    This post was so serendipitous. My sister lost her husband very suddenly and unexpectedly about four months ago. When it first happened, I didn’t leave her side. I showed up every single day, balancing a full-time job, a marriage, and a toddler. But eventually, I had to return to my life and I felt that I was smothering her.

    I realized after reading this today that although I speak to her every single day, and see her often (she generously babysits my son every Friday), I haven’t “checked in” in a while; I’ve been avoiding talking about it because I don’t want to upset her. I decided to send her a simple text telling her that I still think of her husband, my beloved brother-in-law, often and I miss him terribly. I needed her to know that even though my life has continued, and we don’t talk about it constantly like we did at first, her loss (OUR loss) is always on my mind.

    She replied that she misses him so much that it’s physically painful. I am going to show up tonight and invite her to go for a walk in the park — a park where she went on countless walks with her husband. And I’m just going to listen.

    • Katie Wilson says...

      KM – This made me tear up. You sound like a great sister!

    • Karen says...

      It’s really interesting that you say you didn’t want to upset her, and this is a really common reaction. However, it’s not as though the bereaved person isn’t thinking about it All. The. Time. And then you suddenly just reminded them (Oh, crikey! I forgot! My husband’s dead…). You’re not re-opening a wound because it’s a very raw, open wound anyway. When you’re grieving there is a terrible tendency to isolate yourself, and people avoiding the subject only enhances this impulse. I’m not having a go at you, it’s just that this is what I’ve observed from my own experiences in the 19 months since my husband died at the age of 39.
      What else not to say? A doctor friend of mine told me last Christmas that the grief will take 5 years. Absolute rubbish. Time doesn’t heal – it’s an abstract concept. It’s what you do in that time that matters. Listening to people who are well-intended but haven’t experienced bereavement (and no-one else has experienced bereavement quite like anyone else’s: it’s a highly individual process) is perhaps not the best use of that time. You grieve in your own way.

  27. DIANA says...

    I find apps/the internet really help when you want to When you want to be considerate without being intrusive. I had a friend who lost her grandfather and had to coordinate a whole weekend of family visits on top of the grief. She lives several states away from me and we were texting about how tired she was, and that she didn’t know what to plan for dinner, so I went on seamless and ordered a few pizzas and salads to her place and sent her the screenshot of estimated delivery time. She was just thankful to not have to make another decision that day.

    A gift card to a local restaurant is also a thoughtful offer to someone who might be overwhelmed with grief, or scheduling a house cleaning for them while they go out to a movie.

    • Ryal says...

      Amen. I wish you were my friend, too! I just lost my mom on Wednesday, after a stroke and an endless week in the ICU. I had to make so many medical and End Of Life decisions that I can completely understand.

  28. Melissa says...

    Thank you for this post. I lost my father, my hero, my shelter from the storm, 15 years ago after a five year battle with cancer. Since that time, I have personally waded through multiple stages of grief and what strikes me often is how bad I feel I am at supporting others in times of grief – to the extent that I try to avoid doing it – which of course makes me feel even worse! There are many reasons for my feelings I’m sure, but one that comes to mind immediately is that I truly believe it is such a unique and personal journey. I know another reason is because I am still grieving, so I don’t quite feel I can really “help” others with the process. The ideas for what to say and do are excellent.

    • Christy says...

      I can relate to the part about having a hard time supporting others in grief at certain points in my life. I lost a brother in September and then a dear high school friend in May. It’s hard to have the energy for others when it still feels so fresh. A song or a picture has the ability to bring it all back in a heartbeat and just when I think I’m “good” it slaps me in the face again. It’s a long process. I’m sorry you lost your dad, sounds like he was an amazing person.

  29. gb says...

    A dear long time friend recently died. We taught school together. She never married and I was so touched by the memories written by students and parents of how her life had impacted each of them. I wrote her brother a card to let him know how she had impacted my life as an educator and most importantly how she had impacted my two children’s lives. The memorial service was a touching tribute about how her life was all about what was best for children. My husband and I have commented that even though she did not have her own biological children, how important her life was in the lives of children who knew her as their teacher or her friend’s children.

  30. jmb says...

    My cousin lost her five year old son in a car accident. When I saw her two months later and then a year later, if she cried when she was talking about him, she would apologize! It broke my heart. I think the best thing I did was tell her it’s okay to cry in front of me. I have dealt with a lot of death and you don’t want to cry in front of EVERYONE, but knowing that certain people can take it without feeling sorry for you feels good.

  31. This is such a timely post. I lost my mom in June and am just now starting to be sad. I think the first month I was numb and fumbling through life semi-normal. Now that everything is hitting, I feel so lost and unsure what move to make. I’ve disliked my job for some time and losing my mom proves life really is short and it’s time for change.

    I appreciate reading all of these comments, they are so helpful. I’m the first of my friends to lose a parent and everyone has been good with sentiments, however, they’ve all moved on with their lives like I’m back to normal. Thank you for this post.

    • jmb says...

      Oh no! I am so sorry. That is very recent. My mom is gone too. The only thing that really helped me feel less crazy was running. I started running and being outside every day. For 10 minutes or 2 hours, it always helped. I wish I had been self aware enough to see a therapist a few times. I think it would have helped tremendously. Well I hope you find the thing that’s best for you. Sending you a hug.

    • Oh Katie, I am so sorry. I also just lost my mom 3 weeks ago and I feel fine for now but might not in a couple of days / weeks / months.

      I have appreciated that friends check up on me. it makes me feel really loved and supported.

      Much love and healing to you.

    • Katie, I’m so sorry. I lost my dad in May and I’m experiencing the same thing you are right now. It’s so nice when people check in on me, but it doesn’t happen often. People seem to think time heals, and they see me happy and enjoying my two young sons. I wish I could check in on you! It’s such a hard, unsure time.

    • Jessica says...

      Katie, I lost my mom last September and am coming up on the year anniversary. I think when it happened there was a numbing that went into effect when everyone was around and then I was adjusting back to my life after the funeral, work, friends, etc. Now, 10 months in, it’s hitting me hard. I try to remind myself every day that there is no RIGHT way to grieve. I cried in the gym yesterday, and that’s ok. I got mad at a friend for something completely foolish (and apologized immediately after), but that’s ok too. Grief has a million faces and comes at all hours and in so many different ways. We are taught as a culture to move past it, find coping skills, move forward, make progress… but to be honest, when I sit crying on the kitchen floor with a bottle of wine looking at pictures of my mom, I like to remember that the pain is horrible because the love was tremendous. There is no shame is showing that. Grief IS love, just in a different form.

    • Laura C. says...

      Katie, JMB, Johanna, Jessica, I’m so sorry. Big hugs to you all.
      When I lost my dad five years ago I felt so lost, because we didn’t have a good relationship (nor me neither my siblings) but the worst thing was that, since he and my mum were divorced, almost all of my family (of my mum’s side) just said “I’m sorry” but no one was really there to help with the grieving. Months went by and I used to spot him on the street because of other men wearing a similar hat, or a similar coat.
      Sorry if I can’t explain it well.

    • JMB, Johanna, Mallory, Jessica and Laura C- thank you soooo much for sharing with me. I am so sorry for each of your losses too and thank your for sharing your experience of dealing with that loss. Each of your comments are very helpful. Sending y’all all the love today!

  32. Mara says...

    I LOVE what Patrick said about grief being as unique as a fingerprint. My uncle and aunt were very upset and disturbed that I didn’t weep openly at my grandfather’s funeral–they felt the need to talk to my parents about it. And when my beloved grandmother (my best friend in the world) passed 6 years ago, I was so stunned that I barely cried or let it affect me deeply, and only within the last couple years has the death felt raw to me, and I cry on a regular basis and think about her daily. Patrick hit the nail on the head, grief conforms to no timetable or societal expectation.

  33. Anna says...

    I wish the phrase “everything happens for a reason” could be struck from our lexicon. I am almost a year out from a cancer diagnosis that involved losing my second pregnancy, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and continue to hear that as I move through different stages of treatment to manage my cancer. I know that people mean well, but sometimes I just want to look them in the eye and say, “Really?! Please tell me what you think the reason is here.” Thanks for sharing these wonderful ideas.

    • Mara says...

      Please feel empowered to say that to them!

    • Lisa says...

      I agree completely. I want to smack people in the face when they say that as it is so incredibly insensitive. Instead, I simply reply, “That is not true,” because in my belief system, it isn’t. I would call them on it without reservation as it isn’t what you believe, either.

  34. sabrina styza says...

    thank you so much for this, it is so very right. I have lost so much recently, including my mom 9 months ago. Sometimes you just think you are so alone, but I actually think a lot of people are thinking of you. You should think about posting something on motherless daughters there is a lot of thought on how you feel so lost and alone after loosing your mom, but also closer than you ever were.

    • This is a great idea. How does one navigate now that Mom is gone?

    • Jackie says...

      Another angle on motherless daughters are daughters that never had their moms – because their moms passed young or maybe are still alive but not interested / capable of being engaged. It’s so hard on Mother’s Day when everyone is celebrating their moms, when I don’t feel that way about mine. It’s a loss, a grief, I experience all the time, and especially on that day.

    • Beth says...

      I’ll add one more “Do” that may or may not apply (did for me)…

      My best friend showed up at my house after my mom died unexpectedly —
      not with food (we were overflowing with food), but a case of wine. And memories of my mom. We sat in the kitchen with my family drinking and laughing and crying late into the night. I slept for the first time in two days that night, with my best friend by my side in bed with me. It was the perfect thing.

      Food was nice (and everyone who stopped by our house ate a lot!), but I didn’t have an appetite for at least 2-3 days after my mom died. I remember chewing some potato chips and feeling them in my mouth but having no taste. I spit them out and didn’t eat anything for awhile. But wine, oh how great that tasted…

  35. JR says...

    I have another “don’t” to add to the list: avoid inadvertently piling your own grief onto loved ones who are even closer to the deceased than you are.

    I read a theory that likened the grieving process to a circle, with the deceased loved one at the center. Imagine concentric circles of loved ones moving outward, so parents, siblings, and children are the innermost circle, extended family and close friends are the second circle, and so on outward. The theory is: You should try to comfort inward, and grieve outward. Therefore, if I’m a colleague of the deceased, I should be offering comfort to those closer to the deceased, and relying on an outer ring (my husband, my friends) to express my own grief/seek comfort over my loss.

    It sounds so clinical and emotionless, but I find it helpful, especially in a larger family. Not that there has to be a clearly defined hierarchy, of course, or that anyone’s grieving is more valid or important than anyone else’s. I just think it’s a helpful reminder to avoid putting an inadvertent burden of grief (or requesting comfort from) someone who is much closer to the situation than you are.

    • Lauren says...

      This is SO true. What an apt description and helpful reminder of how to support and process one’s own sense of loss. Thank you.

  36. Thank you for this post.
    Another do-not-do: do NOT ask for the recipe of a food you may have enjoyed with the grieving family, gifted to them as a condolence. After my mom’s sudden death when I was 14, my older cousin said “hey – can you get the scones recipe from your piano teacher? Those were amazing.” She kept bugging me and it turns out, my teacher had purchased them at a bakery.

  37. Michele says...

    Love this. Thank you.
    I would like to write something/read something about how to talk to someone who is going through a divorce. There’s a level of grief to that, as well, as I’m finding out first-hand.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, absolutely, michele! that’s a great idea, we are on it. xoxo PS sending so much love your way.

    • A says...

      Michele, big hug.

      I second this — my parents are splitting up after 40 years of marriage and a lot of it’s landing on my shoulders (I’m in my thirties, but still, I’m their daughter!). Would love to know how to help and what to say, especially to my dad (leaving is my mother’s choice). There’s definitely palpable grief there.

      Thank you for the great content, as always, Joanna. xo

  38. not to sound weird or morbid, but i really appreciate your Grief posts. i can’t tell you often i come back to your previous grief posts for tips/pointers on how to act/what to say or do. Regretfully i’ve mastered the art of sending a condolence notes and cards, and while i still feel awkward inside, i act outwardly how a grieving friend needs me to be. so thank you for this post, and previous posts.

    • Rosheen says...

      I agree! Or I didn’t need them then and absolutely need them now. Totally desperate for anyone’s experience. So thankful for Joanna and this blog.

  39. shawna says...

    Great post. Concrete offers of help rather than “how can I help” are also very useful.

  40. cgw says...

    What timely article. My dear cousin recently just lost her husband (and devoted dad) in a tragic, and unexpected way. One of the things on the “ok list” is actually something my cousin didn’t want. She was tired of hearing “I’m sorry.” She was dreading the funeral because she didn’t want to hear it anymore. When I touch base with someone in grieving, whether initially after the sad news, or later to see how they are, I prefer to simply say “I’m thinking of you” or “you’re on my mind today”. Instead of asking them a question first, thereby making them feel potentially obligated to answer back. By letting them know they are being thought of, it just lets them know they aren’t alone. If they want to reply and say more, then I’ll be there to listen.

    • cgw says...

      PS, I forgot to add that being frank is sometimes the best, but it will depend on the person and how well you know them. My cousin told me she appreciated the fact that I also said “This truly sucks, and it’s f-ed up. What more is there to say?”

  41. I recently re-read “When Breath Becomes Air” which led to me to watch Lucy’s recent commencement address. I lost my dad two years ago and I loved hearing her say “quoting Paul is my favorite thing to do”. It gave me such freedom to continue to quote my dad and tell stories about him whenever I want to.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s wonderful, andrea! your dad sounds like an awesome person.

    • Alexa says...

      That makes me think–I’ve been really wondering how Lucy is doing. Joanna would you mind sharing anything about her? Or having Lucy herself share?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      lucy is doing really well! thank you so much for asking. xoxo

  42. Jami says...

    I so appreciate this, CoJ. I lost my dad very suddenly almost three years ago when I was 25. He was only 44 and I had just seen him for the first time in 19 years–needless to say I was extremely shaken. It seemed like almost no one around me was capable of just showing up and being human while I was struggling with grief and I felt tremendous pressure to “be okay” though I was so very far from the realm of even sort-of okay. It felt like people felt awkward about caring and couldn’t handle my grief so it was better to hide it. Perhaps that is an age thing as not many in their mid twenties have experienced the loss of a parent. This advice is so good. I wish people in my life at that time had heard it. Unfortunately, it seems like people in our society have a very hard time being authentically present–the essence of the advice given here–during times of loss. Thank you for fostering the development of that skill here!

  43. Marin Busquet says...

    With the loss of my Mom, what helps me every day is to talk about it, to tell about moments shared with him or things he liked to do, what he prepared, his phrase, his tastes about different things. When he was healthy and alive

  44. Jennie says...

    A few additional thoughts:
    -Don’t assume the person in grief believes in God (or your religion / way of recognizing God.)
    -Don’t bring lasagna (everyone does).

    I had suffered a devastating loss and my boss said, ” I don’t know what to say.” I replied, “That’s because there are no words.” And it gave us both permission to just be sad and not have the pressure of articulating it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s beautiful, Jenny.

      And I laughed out loud at this one: “Don’t bring lasagna (everyone does).” Good tip!!!

  45. I came to your page and searched “grief” tags literally just this week to write someone a note who lost a spouse. These posts are so helpful.

  46. I love and devour every story Cup of Jo publishes, but this piece in particular struck a chord, stroked my hair and made me cry. Then I shared it with friends on Facebook! I lost my husband 10 years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. He was only 27 and we were just about to celebrate our one year anniversary. And then gone. I was everything. Sad and terrified. I was reckless and did whatever I could to make it through. I came out of it because he taught me to be strong. But also the random texts and gift cards to Trader Joe’s from friends and acquaintances are what really reminded me that despite this devastating loss, the world is still a wonderful place and it was worth it go on even though I felt as though I could just stop right there. Ugh. Sigh. Yea. Thanks for letting me tell my story. And for the hug. I’ll always take one of those :-)

    • Tereza says...

      Big hug to you! You are wonderful!

  47. Alyssa says...

    It’s a blessing to know that we aren’t alone in our grieving, even when it’s not the same as anyone else’s.

    I found, for one of my best friends who just lost her baby very early in her pregnancy, was to say “This is shit and it sucks. But I’m willing to stand beside you in it, if you need.” Sometimes we’re too polite.

    • Ingrid says...

      Alyssa, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear when I lost my baby. I did NOT want anyone to try to make me feel better.

  48. Catherine says...

    I lost my dad nine years ago, and my youngest brother two years ago. One of the kindest questions I received from a friend, on a continual basis, was “How are you doing today?” The “today” is key. Because asking a grieving person how they’re doing in such a big, general way is overwhelming and hard to answer. You just end up saying “fine.” But when you add the “today,” it gives the person room to answer honestly. I’m feeling really crappy today, or I’m actually feeling pretty good today. I’m so grateful for that little nuance.

  49. Emma says...

    I often think of the quote from the book “Lament for a Son” you included in your post “On Grief.” Every time I experience loss, I find myself turing to those words over and over again. I include that quote in cards almost every time I have a friend who has lost someone. It always feels like the perfect thing. When my grandfather passed away I remembered thinking, “I wish someone would just ask me about him.” Everyone skirted around the topic and I just wanted to remember him and love him. Something that I also appreciate is talking about the person I’ve lost in the present tense. They may be dead, but they lived and they are still very real to me and so at least for myself, it doesn’t make sense to use the past tense.

  50. Jess says...

    Thanks so much for this! One of my best friends just lost his father a few days ago, and while I know what not to say, I’ve been struggling with how to make him feel better.

  51. Toni says...

    Thank you for this. Yes to all of it. Every single person is different but these are fantastic guidelines.

    The best card I received after my dad passed away had a bird on the cover and inside my friend simply wrote “I didn’t know what to say so I sent you this card with a bird on it. Thinking of you.” It was a light moment at one of my darkest hours. It still never fails to make me smile.

  52. Jessica says...

    I never know what to say when it comes to losing a baby or a miscarriage. My manicurist, who isn’t technically a close friend, but I do see her every two weeks, lost a pregnancy at about 18 weeks when the baby had severe birth defects. This happened a few months ago. Her due date was mid June, and mine is in August. I got the sense that she didn’t really want to talk about it when it happened, so I kind of let her lead the conversation. But then, her due date in June coincided with one of my appointments and I didn’t really know what to say except I’m sorry. I feel really guilty that I am also pregnant with a girl and at first I tried not to talk about my pregnancy and would just answer her quickly and change the subject, but now that I am nearing towards the end, its kind of obvious and she does ask me how I’m feeling, how the baby is doing, etc. Does anyone have any guidance or advice on how to handle situations like this? I feel like I would know how to handle it if it were a close friend, but what if its someone you are not particularly close to, such as a coworker or acquaintance?

    • cooper says...

      What a thoughtful question! I had a miscarriage in May and by far the most painful reaction was no response / silence. I appreciated any sort of acknowledgment. I really wanted to talk about my experience but not too many people asked questions or seemed interested in hearing about it. I also really appreciated the friends who asked about the positive aspects of my pregnancy, since I miscarried just before we’d planned to announce it – one friend asked how my husband responded when we found out I was pregnant, which was a sweet question. I would also love to be asked if I found any special way to honor the baby or how the experience changed me or anything along those lines. It might also be nice to acknowledge upfront that you understand if it’s too painful for her to hear about your baby and that you completely understand if she wants to talk about other things. I hope that helps a little bit! I’m sure she’ll really appreciate your empathy!

    • Anna says...

      I lost my second pregnancy last fall at 18 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer and having to start aggressive treatment immediately. Grieving that loss has been as hard, and at times harder than, dealing with the fear and difficulty of cancer treatment. But there is so much discomfort in our society around how to talk about it. I’ve really appreciated it when people just acknowledge the loss, even if they don’t know what to say. Even if they say “I don’t know what to say.” That at least opens the door for me to talk about it if I want to. It was especially welcomed around my due date, even if it was just a simple “I’m thinking of you this week. Imagine it might be a hard time for you.” From my perspective, when she asks you about how you and baby are doing, it’s probably because she really wants to know…and, I imagine it’s painful at the same time. I think it’s fine for you to just answer quickly and then move on with the conversation. Best wishes to you as your due date approaches!

    • Jessica says...

      Thank you so much for your advice, Cooper! I’m so sorry about your baby. I can’t imagine going through that. I think miscarriage is in a category of its own, as the loss is not tangible to those around you. Miscarriage is something that so many people go through and its just now that people are starting to talk more openly about it. Your advice is so helpful in navigating a difficult time and I will make sure to ask her how she is doing, etc. next time I see her. I try to imagine how I would want to be treated if I experienced a loss, but not having gone through it, it’s hard to say how I would feel. Thank you again.

    • Jessica says...

      Thank you for your guidance and kind words, Anna! I cannot imagine going through cancer treatment and a miscarriage. I am thinking positive thoughts for you on this difficult journey.

    • Lisa says...

      I agree with others that silence can feel the worst. I would argue that her asking you how you are feeling and how the baby is doing may, in addition to her being genuinely curious and wanting to know those things, be her way of showing you that she is feeling open to talking, to some extent. You could answer and then simply return the question with something like, “How have you been feeling?” Given that you’d already be talking about pregnancy and babies, I think she’d understand that you were asking about how she’s really feeling and not just making small talk and yes, you are right to let her lead that conversation if she wants to. But trust, me, ask. Having suffered a miscarriage while feeling like I could not discuss it with others was the worst. I felt all of the feelings by myself, cried a lot by myself, and suffered a lot by myself. My poor and loving husband did not completely get it (I don’t think any man truly can, not because they don’t care but because it’s just different). Now when I find that others are unfortunately going through the same and mention that I have been through a miscarriage, they invariable open up. I’d of course never force anyone to talk, but I think that generally it is helpful to many women in the situation. All good thoughts to you as you wait to meet your baby!

    • Sam says...

      Something like this happened to my mom when I was younger. She had been trying to have another baby for several years. Meanwhile, a good friend of hers had completely surprisingly gotten pregnant. Their due dates were the same day, but my mom miscarried, and of course my mother was heartbroken. When my mom’s friend’s baby was born, my mom’s friend asked my mom if she wanted to have some time alone with the baby. This basically gave my mom a chance to cry without embarrassing herself, all the while snuggling a very sweet baby. I’ve always thought this was an incredibly generous gesture, and I know it was a benefit to my mom.

  53. Kendall says...

    This is lovely. Thanks for sharing ! <3 Will be sure to keep these points in mind for myself and others.

  54. Jerry Kliner says...

    An important thing to remember is that there are many things people grieve over…and not all of them are actual, physical death. I remember the dark days when my marriage came apart, and I got many variations on the same sentiments around death. The worst one was someone actually gave me a wall-hanging that said “Don’t be sorry it’s over, be glad it happened!” Really? Really? You give this to a guy who’s wife has abandoned him and literally doesn’t know how to face the next morning? Another friend “congratulated” me on getting divorced. Really? My world was coming apart at the seams, without anything I could do about it and you “congratulate” me on it…

    The point is, remember that people can grieve the loss of a career, the loss of a marriage, and other major losses just as they grieve an actual death. In some ways, perhaps even worse, because we get told frequently “Cheer up! It’s not like someone died!” When an actual death happens, we get permission to grieve. Often, when other major losses occur, we are pushed along with little time and little permission to feel real sorrow and work through it.

    • Annalisa says...

      Really wise words… thank you

    • Melissa says...

      I agree with you. A few years ago, my marriage ended just before our 7th year anniversary. I tried everything I could to deal with the pain, which included attending a divorce support group. While in my first and only meeting, I was constantly told by other well meaning divorcees that “oh, it’s not so bad for you, you were only married for a short time.” However well meaning they were, their words down-played the pain I was going through. I decided that going to therapy would be best where I could fully give my grief the attention it deserved.

  55. Claudia says...

    Finding the words to comfort someone when they are grieving is very hard but in hindsight saying something is always better than nothing as long as it’s authentic. My husband is in the military and in our small infantry and helicopter pilot community so many families have lost husbands and fathers to war. It is earth shattering for everyone and it’s easy to retreat inward and not show up, but small gestures such as taking care of the animals, mowing the lawn, bringing meals, and other small tasks can help tremendously in addition to giving good hugs, making a simple “how are you,” phone call, or sending a thoughtful text.

  56. kate says...

    Is it too obvious to say that you shouldn’t talk about your own dead relatives when someone is grieving? I can’t tell you how many people thought they were helping by doing that. I could have screamed.

    • VL says...

      I remember when I was young and a parent passed away, I was the only one in my class that had gone through something like that. Adding to my grief was loneliness because none of my friends knew that particular kind of loss. Years later, I casually mentioned to a coach that my dad was not alive, and he reached out, grabbed my hand, and said, “My father also died when I was a boy.” He talked a little about his dad, and I found incredibly life-giving to know someone else walked a similar path.

      I also knew another girl in high school who said “I know exactly how you felt when you’re dad died, because my grandmother died before I was born.” Umm, not as helpful.

    • Jo says...

      So true!
      I lost my mom unexpectedly, right after I returned from visiting her. I was down with flu and was physically and emotionally drained out. Still, I answered calls from friends & family as I knew they were trying to offer their best.
      But one friend called and started off on how she felt when she lost her dad years back.. and she probably was trying to make me feel better by sharing her experience, but it was odd that I ended up consoling her. I seriously wanted to reach into the phone and physically assault her. My anger was so real at that moment.
      I mumbled something and hung up. But have made a point to never do that to someone else.

    • Riley McCormick says...

      I lost my mom to her alcoholism when I was 26 and she 48 — I can’t even tell you how many women in their 50s (!!) with moms in their 80s (!!) would say “I just lost my mom… I know just how you feel. Really huge eye roll.

      Also, the words “I know just how you feel” should never be said. Ever.

  57. Amanda says...

    Thank you so much for this incredibly truth-filled and loving post. Not only is the actual post (and book which I just ordered) so helpful, the comments are too. We too are going through the recent loss of both of our parents, and these comments and words help to remind me that there’s no right way, to honor where we are, and that there are also others out there who understand. Thank you.

    • Annalisa says...

      I’m so sorry, Amanda.

  58. Grace says...

    I lost my uncle very tragically a year and a half ago. The line that always hurt the most was when someone said they understood how I was feeling. I know it was just a gesture of goodwill, but comparing grief is impossible. I am always so conscious of that.

    I read a reddit post a while ago that I loved. I will leave it here for all of you to read: https://www.reddit.com/r/Assistance/comments/hax0t/my_friend_just_died_i_dont_know_what_to_do/c1u0rx2/

    My favourite line: “Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
    Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

    • Maureen says...

      Joe Biden gave a speech with a similar theme several years ago… http://time.com/3903700/joe-biden-grief/
      I had lost my husband and happened to catch it on TV. I remember the tears running down my face as I thought, “He gets it.” He has been a hero of mine ever since :)

    • Toni says...

      Thank you for sharing this, Grace. The wave analogy is spot on.

  59. Courtney says...

    My dad died three years ago. This post came on his birthday – he would have been 75 yesterday. The grief never goes away, but bearing the burden does get easier.

    One of the harshest realizations I had when my dad died was that we would never make new memories together. And then a friend offering his condolences shared a story about my dad that I had never heard before. It was like gaining a new memory, and I was so grateful.

  60. Savannah says...

    Please don’t tell people that the person is in a better place. You don’t know the history of their relationship. My father was my abuser. I don’t know if he’s in a better place. I don’t know if he deserves to be in a better place. I don’t know where he should be. It was horrible every single time someone told me that.

    The best interacts I had after he died went like this:
    “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Okay. I’m here for you if you need anything.”
    “Thank you.”

    There’s also a theory of circles of intimacy when it comes to the person who is bereaved. I had people who were not as close to my father trying to one-up me. Not helpful. Know where you are in regards to those who lost the person; it’s not the job of the daughter of the deceased person to comfort you.

  61. Michelle says...

    I love this post. It’s not exactly the same, but my first daughter was diagnosed with a cluster of birth defects when she was just a few hours old. All I wanted to do was recap every detail of the traumatic day to whoever would listen.
    Our very best friends immediately started researching her condition, the surgeries, her doctors, and the hospital. It felt like they were 100% on our team and that meant the world. Also, they showed up without asking and just listened, and usually brought cookies. :)

  62. Courtney says...

    Thank you for sharing this post.

  63. Christine says...

    This is such an important conversation, for loss touches us all at some point. The important message here when it is not yet your turn is not to shy away from it. Don’t worry, your own momentary discomfort when facing someone else’s loss will pass. Make the sympathy call, send the letter, attend the service if you can, follow up, listen. Mostly listen. Be present for the mourning person. It’s the only thing that helps. It’s the mature, human thing to do.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes, Christine! Great points. My mom always says, “You’re not going to upset or surprise someone by bringing up their loss. They’re thinking about it ALL THE TIME.” I thought that was really good advice.

    • Nicole says...

      I can’t agree with this more. I learned after losing my dad that I would so much rather have someone say the wrong thing than distance themselves and not say anything at all.

    • Rebecca says...

      I hear this so often (about not turning away; about reaching out and sending the letter or making the phone call) and I always try to adhere to it. But I will say that after my husband’s father died unexpectedly, my husband did not always feel this way. There were days that he would come home to new cards and just lash out – he didn’t want to read another damn card, he wanted his dad back. The cards actually became a new target of his grief, I think. This went on for months. In some ways it was worse after a few months had passed, because the cards became fewer and further between, and the likelihood increased that a card would actually catch him at a rare moment when he wasn’t thinking about his dad and fully grieving, and bring him back to that place. I know, I know, that this is exactly the opposite of what I have always been told – that you can’t “remind” someone of a terrible loss they are experiencing and so not to worry about it. But it was his reality.

      I think that now, years later, he would say that was misdirected grief, and I know he doesn’t actually begrudge any of the card senders — I’m sure in retrospect he appreciates that people reached out. And I still send cards to grieving friends, but watching my husband go through this experience does make me wonder if other people feel the same way.

  64. Jessica says...

    Oh this is so accurate….! My mother past away almost 11 years ago back when i was 22 and it was the biggest pain I ever had. And every year around her aniversary and her birthday (both with just a few days apart) i can’t help but feeling really sad. Over the years people would tell me not to feel sad because it happen such a long time ago… but I can’t, and i decide that i won’t force myself either. Since you don’t have that love one anymore with you it’s only fair to be tender with yourself and respect those feelings. xoxo

  65. shelley says...

    I agree with all of this advice except asking about the day it happened. I have had many people ask me to give them the details of the day I lost my baby, and I hate it. I don’t wish to go over the details of that with anyone but my husband. and I never want to make them feel bad for asking me so I do it anyway and I absolutely hate it. If I want to share what happened that day and go through the details, I would have already with you. I understand that people are curious, particularly women my age who are thinking about starting their families and whatnot but it is just super invasive, even if they meant well. When you lose a baby (or go through really any kind of grief), you learn to have very thick skin and take all kinds of comments with a smile and thank you.

    • Rachael says...

      I cannot imagine having to retell a story like that and I’m so surprised that people think to ask a question like that. I am beyond sorry for your loss and my heart breaks for you. Sending love and hugs. xo

    • cooper says...

      I’m so sorry about your baby! I felt the exact opposite about losing a baby – I wanted to share more of the experience and details and was sad when people didn’t ask about it. I don’t say that at all to minimize the pain that those questions caused you! I’m so sorry and it’s completely understandable that you wouldn’t want to share! I think the takeaway may be for listeners to just be open to anything the person who is grieving wants to share but to not be offended if the person doesn’t want to talk about certain things, maybe even acknowledging upfront “Please tell me if you don’t want to talk about this but I’d be open to hearing about _____.”

  66. Elaine says...

    I lost my mum suddenly (cardiac dysrhythmia) just over a year ago when my baby was 6 months old (her first grandchild who she proudly looked after 3 days a week) – I just wanted to say thank you so much for this post, for your friend Gemma’s amazing words, and to all of you wonderful people commenting with such thoughtful messages.

    Before this loss, I too really struggled with coping with other’s grief (my best friend lost her mum to cancer 5 years ago) – not knowing what to say, terrified of making things worse, so not saying much at all. Following the loss of my mum, I was so buoyed by those that wrote me a heartfelt letter, sharing their grief and support, including memories and found poems… all those things I didn’t say to those grieving as I felt they might be too painful were exactly what comforted in a terrible time. Letters were incredibly appreciated as I could open them in stronger moments, cry my eyes out, then treasure the love given and felt. Delivering oven-ready home made meals are so welcome when you’re numb and functioning on autopilot, especially if you have a family to feed. People were so incredibly kind in sending cut flowers, but we ended up with a lot and the sense of funeral parlour became a bit overwhelming; garden plants were also given and I love to be able to see them day after day and as a beautiful reminder. I loved Bethany’s comment about offering to take your friend to do the things they miss doing with their lost loved one… this is something I hadn’t even realised had left a big hole for me.

    One thing that both I and my best friend had was a lot of comments along the line of “You’re doing so well” or “I don’t know how you’re coping, I’d be a mess”. You ended up comforting the person when all you wanted to do was scream “I’m ‘coping’ because I have to right now and really I’m just numb to the bone”. I think all you ever want to hear in those situations is “I love you, I’m here, and I will forever miss your loved one’s wonderful kindness/sense of humour/joy…”

    Just to end with the most wonderful card I received, the front reads “Marvellous Mum”, and inside my friend wrote “Because she was, and you are”.

  67. Kirsten says...

    I never know what to say when terrible events happen like the death of a loved one, so I’ve bookmarked this to use as a reference. One of my friend’s father’s is very sick and will inevitably pass away in the next year, so having a few ideas on things to say/not say is wonderful! Thank you!

  68. Judith says...

    This post was eerily well timed. My father-in-law just passed away today while my husband and I are on vacation in Bali. Currently figuring out how to get flights rearranged and to family this weekend. I lost my own father 10 years ago and I still struggle with what to do when someone passes away. It’s like I know I can’t do anything to actually help that pain so I flounder.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Judith. That sounds so incredibly hard. Sending so much love your way.

  69. It’s amazing I have seen two posts on this topic in the last two days, as the mom of one of my best friends passed away yesterday. It was expected — she had been suffering for years — but I still have found it difficult to reach out and say the right thing. My instinct tells me to give her space, but I know I would want to have the support of my friends in a similar situation, too. This post was incredibly helpful at just the right time. Thank you.

  70. Katrina says...

    This is lovely.

    One of my favourite illustrators, Emily McDowell recently published a book called “There Is No Good Card for This” that covers on how to talk about all kinds of sensitive subjects with empathy and grace—cancer diagnoses, miscarriages, etc.

    I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve at being a better communicator and supporter to others during difficult times!

    • Julie Kissinger says...

      I second that book recommendation! My partner lost his dad in his early 20’s, and he said it was so hard to not have friends reach out because they didn’t know what to say. It helped him a lot to have people send cards, calls, and texts saying they were thinking about him, or to share a funny memory of his dad. Even years later, he appreciates it. Talking about a person who has died might seem to those of us not grieving as overstepping or bringing up a sore subject, but most people who have lost someone never stop thinking about them and appreciate any chance to cherish their memory.

      Ps. Other people seem to like this book too (4.3/5 on Goodreads!):
      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28257714-there-is-no-good-card-for-this

  71. Mary says...

    “What was your mum like?”

    It’s such a simple sentence but it always allow me to move beyond grief and think of my mum in the most positive, heartwarming way possible. I have no problem talking about her illness or her death but I love when I get the chance to talk about my mum’s personality, her life, funny anecdotes, etc. For me, it turns grief into nostalgia. Six years on, I miss her so much it hurts, but I love having the opportunity to remember the life she did have, not just her death.

    Secondly, go to the funerals of your friend’s loved ones who have passed. Three of my best friends flew unannounced to be by my side at my mum’s funeral. I never knew I needed them so much.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love this. Thank you, Mary.

  72. The list of things that one can say is useful and full of very smart suggestions.
    I think some people don’t say anything because they are at a loss for the right words. And then the grieving person is hurt because of the silence.

  73. Sharon says...

    This is so spot on. I lost my mom 5 years ago to cancer. I could tell who was in ‘the club’ ( those who have lost parents) from those who were not. Those who knew what we were going through knew what to say and also what to do.. not asking what they could do but just doing it… knowing that we did not have the head space to plan and then ask but that we all needed to eat so food just showed up. I will always be thankful for those friends. The one that bothered me the most was the ” she is in a better place” She was 65 and newly retired… her better place is with us, her kids and grandkids, enjoying the fruits of her labour etc.

  74. Vicky says...

    These are so thoughtful and sweet. Grief is such a strange and intimate thing and we’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. My husband’s sistet lost her husband abput a year ago – tragically , and at only 36. We were very close and we lived him like a brother so it was hqrd on all pf us. And now my husband and I have been struggling because his (my husband’s) sister was dating someone new less than two months after the death, and they moved in together a couple of months later. People grieve in their own way, and we are trying to be ok with it, but he was our family too and we are missing him and struggling to accept a replacement – because the new guy has been seamlessly blended in, brought to family meals and days out, Christmasses and birthdays. My husband feels that he needed a bit more time to grieve the loss of his friend. Are we being terrible people ? Any wise words of advice, anyone?

    • cooper says...

      Sheryl Sandberg has a whole chapter about that in her new book on grief, Plan B! (I think it’s the final chapter). I think the gist was to be supportive of the spouse left behind, regardless of the timeline, because it’s impossible to understand what that person is going through. It might be worth a read!

  75. Jill T. M. says...

    When you go through something life changing and horrible, some people will recede from your life. It is brutal. My brother, sister, and father have never said a word to me since my still born twins last year, and it still hurts. I don’t understand it. Suddenly you see who your fair-weathered friends and family are.

    And no, I don’t except that they “just don’t know what to say/do.” If you care about that person, you can figure out SOMETHING. We are adults in the age of the google, and it takes about 5 minutes of reading to know that pretending they were never born/died adds to the pain. It makes me not want to be around them (obviously something I need to work on).

    The flip side is that you get to see who your angels are. I had care packages and letters sent to me from thousands of miles away. A woman I had only met once wrote me a sweet letter. A high school acquaintance sent me messages through Facebook. My sister interrupted her European vacation to come see me in the hospital. My mom flew 5000 miles to help me recover. My best friend called me on their first birthday. Nothing can replace their compassion, and I will always remember.

  76. Alexandra says...

    Thank you for this!
    I’ve never commented on here before, but I’ve been following for years.
    I am about to lose a pregnancy due to medical reason and I hate it so much to hear things like, at least you are young enough to have another child or that God doesn’t give me more that I can handle.
    At the moment, I don’t know if I will want another child. I wanted this one! And I don’t believe in God.
    And I myself will never say nonsense like “time heals all wounds” ever again.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Alexandra, I’m so sorry to hear about your devastating loss. Of course you wanted that particular baby — your sweet little one that I’m sure you were already loving. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • jill c. says...

      Alexandra – i’m so terribly sorry you are going through this. I too lost my first child during pregnancy due to medical reasons. For me online support groups helped tremendously since everyone online really understood what i was going through. I’ll be thinking about you and sending love… xo

    • Molly says...

      Alexandra, I am so sorry to hear this! What a devastating loss. When attending the funeral of a child once, the priest uttered these words: there is nothing so tragic as the loss of a child. It’s the truth, and I am so sorry you have to face this. Much love & empathy to you.

    • Anna says...

      Alexandra, I am so sorry that you have to lose your baby. I lost mine last fall due to medical reasons too, and I know it can absolutely feel like more than you can handle. It’s incredibly unfair, and I am so sorry that you are going through it. I wish you the space and the support to grieve this loss as it deserves to be grieved.

    • Alexandra says...

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Jill, Molly, Anna and Joannna!
      I wish you all the best!

    • Kathleen says...

      We just lost our baby at 17 weeks-a very planned and wanted pregnancy. I’m thinking of you during this time and just wanted to reach out to let you know that you aren’t alone.

  77. Not quite about grief, though a lot of grieving has been involved – I’ve been on the academic job market for the last year. I’m still on the market. One thing I’ve learned: “It wasn’t meant to be” is NOT a helpful phrase (my teenage-self heard it a number of times in relation to boyfriends my parents were secretly, or not so, glad to see the back of. It wasn’t helpful then either).

    Try asking what I learned from the last application, interview, conversation with a hiring manager. What did I think went really well? Help me think about what I want, beyond the financial security of “will take any job”. But, please, don’t just tell me “it wasn’t meant to be”.

  78. Ems says...

    I think it’s important to say something. When my dad passed away, my school friends didn’t say a thing when I told them. Yes, sometimes a silent hug can be nice, but in a huge grief you need spoken words, anything, just talk to the person. Grief makes you easily feel like you are alone in the world, and words can help.

  79. A says...

    Wonderful advice. A dear friend of mine died unexpectedly last week, and I’m still trying to process her sudden absence. I’ve found it so helpful to talk openly about her and all the good times with others who knew her.

  80. Elise says...

    My dad passed away very unexpectedly at the age of 49 in August 2016, almost a year ago now. I had just turned 21 and because my parents were divorced and I’m an only child I was responsible for the funeral and a lot of the legal stuff, which was a huge burden.
    None of my friends had experienced something like this before, so I often felt and sometimes still feel misunderstood. Already after two or three months people assumed that I was over it and got annoyed whenever I brought it up. They didn’t understand that things like Christmas or the day he would have turned 50 were a reason for me to get emotional.
    To this day it is still something I wake up and go to sleep with every single day, but over time I have learned that this is completely normal and okay. I just wish someone would have told me that sooner…

    • LJ says...

      I wish I had something useful to say, and now that I have read all the comments, I feel less sure on what is appropriate (and not) to say.

      However, I think you are a brave person, and I really wish that it gets easier for you.

      Best,
      Lakshmi

    • Oh, Elisha. I’m so sorry for your loss and at such a young age. I was 24 when my mom died, and even though my parents weren’t divorced, I still found myself doing very adult things when I was very NOT prepared to do them–sorting through her medical bills because my father was too wracked with anxiety to open them, talking with her doctors, staying overnight with her in the hospital so that my father and my grandmother could rest at home, sorting through her belongings after she died. Going through something like this in our 20’s totally robs you of the invincibility that most people our age get to experience. It’s been one of the hardest parts of grieving her death–almost no one my age understands why I am the way that I am, because they’ve never been through this end-of-life stuff. You’re not alone. Sending you all my love.

  81. Aileen Johnston says...

    I lost my dad 13 years ago and when someone asked me if there was anything she could do, I said the bathroom and kitchen needed cleaned as my mother and I had to go to the Undertaker and we had family arriving. My mother was mortified that I had actually given someone a job to do but my thought process was they shouldn’t have asked! The woman who did it was so grateful that I had given her a job to do as she felt so helpless. When we came back not only had she done the kitchen and bathroom, she had dusted and hoovered the living room and made all the beds (we weren’t gone for ages, she was just quick). She was amazing and Im glad I followed through on her offer.

    • Misha says...

      This. This made me cry. In my own grief this would have been a miracle of support. It sounds so silly, but you are so right. I once heard (I can’t remember where) to bring breath mints and have them on hand for grieving friends. It wasn’t until I went through a time of continual crying that I realized why that was such a true gift. I love that you were honest. I would be so honored to do cleaning for someone I loved that was suffering.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so touching, aileen.

    • Rosheen says...

      I love this so much!! I AM SO GLAD you gave this person a task. I cringe when people said to me “if there is anything I can do” and honestly cleaning, nice meals, a nice candle or spa gift card for my mom would be great and STILL appreciated 2 months after my little brother has died. It does feel like everyone has forgotten about it but we definitely haven’t. If anything, its far more real and much worse.

  82. Alice says...

    This is so timely. I found out last night that a dear friend’s mother (who I knew well too) suddenly died at the beginning of the week. This is so helpful as I try to navigate how to speak with my friend at this truly awful time. I came here to look for some solace this morning, as I’m feeling at a complete loss myself, and this post was the first I saw. Thank you, Cup of Jo team, for always just “knowing”.

  83. Cherie says...

    This is so timely and helpful, thank you. A good friends young niece drowned this week. It is heartbreaking for her and I would hate to add to her grief with anything I said :(

  84. This is so so so important, honestly. It can be hard not knowing what to say so you just end up saying the wrong thing because it’s what many people say. But this is a fantastic rundown of what to say or do instead that will help mend instead of avoiding the grieving.

  85. Elif says...

    Just reading the list made me cry. I have lost my mother 6 years ago. I think the list is very accurate and the bag metaphor is very true. After so many years pass by, you do not allow yourself to cry about your loss any more and people around you think that you are over it. But the truth is the bag of bricks is always with you and you just don’t know when it would feel heavy again. All of a sudden, when you least expect it, for example when you read a nice post about grief on a blogpost, tears may start to rain down your cheeks.

    • Anna says...

      Thank you, Elif. Same here.

  86. Rachel says...

    This is wonderful. I’m so glad you posted it. I lost my dad when I was 23, and like some others here, I was the first among my friends to lose a parent. He passed away in April. That Fathers Day, I got a card in the mail from a friend and her mom saying that they were thinking about me and him. It meant so much. I still think of it and smile and tear up a little, and I’ve tried to make the same kinds of gestures for friends who have lost their loved ones.
    It’s really true that it’s so meaningful when someone asks how you’re doing, or asks about the person who passed, and speaks their name. It’s still hard to talk about losing my dad even 13 years later, but I love being able to share stories and memories. But it can be really hard to bring up — kind words and questions like these are really special.

  87. Kate says...

    My dad also passed away suddenly 8 years ago. I can completely relate to being asked often “How’s your mom doing?” and never the follow up of “and how are you?” I think people simply felt asking about my mom was safer–a little more removed than asking me directly. I also struggled with several friends who never really said anything at all. It was the ripple effect of my dad’s death that I didn’t expect to be so painful. And all the comments. “You’re so lucky your mom has so much time to babysit for you” . Someone even told my mom “It’s great that you’ll have more alone time now”. We have laughed so hard at the oddity and absurdity of how some people handled our situation. It helped to try and see the dark humor in it and realize that people will do and say strange things because they just don’t know what to do. The ladies at the coffee drive through said more than some of my closest friends. “I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say.” Comfort can show up when you least expect it and it showed me that even the smallest kindness’ matter. It has also made me the person who shows up, brings a meal, asks questions even when I dread doing so because I know none of my efforts can magically ease the pain of losing someone you loved so much. But! Having been on the other side now, I never want to be that person who doesn’t at least try and enter into someone else’s grief with them. To walk beside them as best as I can. I loved this article! Thanks for sharing.

  88. Rena says...

    I don’t agree that the phrase ” Let me know if there is anything I can do” lost it’s meaning. If somebody really means this he/she will do everything in his/her power to show that they are available for help. Afcourse people say that way to often but you will know when somebody really means it. I also agree that there is no timetable for grief. My Nana past away more than 10 years ago and it took a long long time to get to the stage where I didn’t cry when I rememberd her. Everybody in my family know that I am emotional but they forced me to be brave about my greif and not show it too much. Now that’s how you really don’t deal with a person in grief.

  89. Dana says...

    Hi — my dad passed away a week ago and I’m not sure what I’m feeling anymore. Mostly a mixture of numbness, sadness, and confusion. I was a mess throughout his stay at the hospital but didn’t shed a tear at the funeral — a random video on the internet will send me into a downward spiral but a well-meant text from a friend will infuriate me (ironically, all from the “what NOT to say” list). It seems like life has moved on so quickly without him here, and it feels so….wrong. I know there’s no “right way” to feel and nothing is going to bring him back — it’s just all the up and down has been the hardest part since his actual passing. As an only child that just moved home last year (I’m 23 and my dad has been sick my whole life so I wanted to be closer), so much of who I was was contingent on my relationship with my parents — which has thrown me into a bit of an identity crisis (as if my twenties wasn’t riddled with that sentiment enough).

    Anyways, I guess I’m just saying this all to say thank you for this post and the subsequent comments — it’s provided me some solace during this generally shitty time. I’ve been reading your blog everyday since high school, and it’s provided me a variety of life advice throughout the years — but today especially.

    Cheers xx

    • Big hugs to you Dana. I too am the the midst of a parental end-of-life process due to a terminal illness and it is HARD.

  90. Elisabeth says...

    Thank you for this.

  91. Stephani L. says...

    Thank you for this post. Today is my dads birthday and he passed away 6 years ago. Our daughter turns one this Sunday and we named her in honor of him. What an ironic time for me to read this. One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes holidays, birthdays, special events etc can be irritating when people remind you how sorry they are your loved one isn’t there….such as on fathers day to tell me ” gosh what a hard day this must be to not have your dad around today?” It doesn’t occur to them that yesterday my dad was gone and tomorrow and eveyday after…i don’t need the reminder. They mean well but it can a bit shortsighted. I would say its a lot of the random days and moments that are hardest and something for others to keep in mind. One last piece of advice is please don’t compare losses with someone. For example, ” This must be so hard…i lost my 98 yo grandma when i was 8 years old so i understand.” Grief is not a contest of who hurts the most. Again, thank you for letting those who grieve have a voice.

  92. Colleen says...

    This post. This post arrives on precisely 8 weeks since losing my Mum. No one brought dinner, wish more people followed that suggestion. I am absolutely empty without her. I have pretend conversations with her everyday, through my tears. Honestly I am still waiting for her to walk through my door. I would give just about anything to have her back. I guess it still feels like I’m in some sort on denial because I was and am in no way ready to say ‘see you on the otherside’ to her. She means the world to me and it is just still so difficult to imagine my world without her. These words about grief are more in the way I can relate and agree upon: Grief is not a task to finish and move on, but is now an element of yourself. An alteration of your being. A new way of seeing.

    • Misha says...

      I’m so sorry Colleen. I relate to those pretend conversations. I write my dad letters telling him about how my kids are as well.

  93. Alyssa says...

    Reading this post as well as the comments from other readers has been the most comforting thing I’ve experienced in a while.

    It’s been a little over a year since I lost my dad suddenly while on vacation, and all I’ve ever hoped was for someone to ask me about what my dad was like––at least from my eyes. However, I’ve learned not to expect this because I’m 19 (turning 20 in August) and I’m the first of my friends to lose a parent.

    Still, an inquiry that would acknowledge my experience with (and beyond) this loss is something that would make me feel less crazy when, in reality, there still hasn’t been a day (good or bad) when my dad hasn’t crossed my thoughts. In reality, I’m transferring back to my original university in New York after I impulsively decided to transfer to a school closer to my hometown to look after my mother who is now a widow (and if I’m being honest, I needed her to look after me as well). This inquiry would validate the fact that, it’s hard for me to commit to a five year degree program, not because I can’t commit, but because given such a tragic loss, I’m acutely aware that, anything (life-altering) could happen in five years. What if no one is at my graduation? Even now, I feel selfish admitting this, but I feel comfortable sharing in this community and I feel that to deny myself of these REAL feelings would be to deny that I’m human––alive and feeling.

    Actually, it seems that I’ve received this inquiry after all––in the form of this blog post. Thank you so much for writing about this and to the other readers who make it a safe space to share!

    • Elise says...

      Dear Alyssa,
      I recognize so much in what you’re saying. I lost my dad in August 2016 when I had just turned 21 and I’m also the first one of my friend to lose a parent. For months I tried to find stories of other people my age going trough the same thing, but no luck. Your comment made me realize that I’m not alone in this and that I’m not crazy for still grieving almost a year after it happened. Thank you for that.

  94. Anna says...

    Joanna – Thank you so much for posting this. I think so often we are in positions where we want to be supportive and say and do the right things for people when they are grieving, but the Western world doesn’t really prepare us well to do this. I have found your posts about Lucy and grief (especially the one around writing a condolence note) so so very helpful at these times, both for myself and for supporting others going through grief.

    A couple of years ago I went through my own traumatic event and one of the biggest things I learned from that experience was around what NOT to say/do for others going through hard times. I still sting a bit remembering insensitive things said (often meant out of kindness), or those friends and family who but either felt so uncomfortable they avoided the topic in conversation or never contacted me again. It’s really hard when you’re in that position not to take it personally and/or feel alone.

    One thing I heard that I found really helpful was the concept of “firefighters” and “builders”. When something terrible happens some of us react as “firefighters” who come running to put out the fire, but don’t know what to do beyond that and either move to the next fire or take a break. Others are “builders” who come afterwards and quietly offer support longterm. It’s a useful way to understand other peoples reactions and also a good metaphor for understanding that support need not be grandiose to mean the world to someone.

  95. Ally says...

    Thank you for regularly writing and publishing posts on this topic. I was just talking with someone today about how gut-wrenching it was when our friends (meh) weren’t there for us in our time of grief. Some people just disappear when they feel painfully awkward and don’t know what to do. Thanks for kindly giving/suggesting tools for us all to do better for each other.

  96. Helen says...

    Dear jo,
    As many have said, this post is so timely.My grandmother, a true pillar of light and love in my life, passed away unexpectedly a month ago. It has been such an awful month as I sway between rage and sadness and the crushing weight of the reality of her death. Some of the sweetest moments have simply been talking with my family about our love for my grandmother and mourning together.
    For anyone out there suffering a loss, you are not alone, and I am so deeply sorry.

  97. mia says...

    When something happens to someone I care about I usually say a variation on: “I’m so very sorry / This is a totally s*** thing that happened to you and I’m so sorry / I love you very much” adjusting my anger/sadness accordingly. I make sure to ask them what I can do: comfort/listen to them, talk about things, organise any errands, bring food, be angry with them, or just straight up distract them. Take your cues from the person in pain.

  98. l. says...

    In addition to keeping birthdays marked on my calendar, I also keep “death dates” that are important to the people I care about. About 10 years ago a friend of mine’s father committed suicide. She & I fell out of touch for the most part, but I sent her a message last year on the anniversary of her father’s death just telling her I was thinking of her & hoped she was doing well. I almost didn’t send the message because I didn’t want to contribute to her grief, but she was actually so happy to hear that I still remembered details of the stories she told me about some of her happiest times with him. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, what a lovely idea, I.

    • Yes. I did the same thing with my best friends sister. I mark her sisters birthday and death date in my calendar so I can let her know I’m thinking about her and her sister that day.

  99. Blair says...

    These comments definitely struck a chord for me. My parents both died by the time I started my junior year of high school. My peers didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t expect them to either. Now, twelve years later, I find that I struggle in saying the right thing too, in times that I’m on the other side of it. What I typically revert to is what I wish people said then (and what I sometimes wish people would say now) is that you are allowed to feel what you feel and as deeply as you feel it. Sometimes the permission to grieve and wear it on your sleeve without judgement is the most therapeutic.

  100. I actually lost my grandmother a few days ago so this post comes at a time where it seems most pertinent. I think an important thing to understand, at least for me, is your intention to make me feel better is the most important thing, not the actual words you speak. I had people who don’t believe in a higher power telling me my family is in their prayers and I had people telling me simply ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘let me know if you need anything’. The act of reaching out not only makes me feel loved and supported in this time, but makes me actually think of the legacy of kindness my grandmother leaves behind. Don’t worry so much about what you’re going to say, just say it and mean it and we’ll feel it. I promise.

    xx

  101. Margaret says...

    This post is incredibly timely and spot on. My mom passed away a year ago this past Monday. I’m 39, and I find myself in the minority of my friends, most of whom still have healthy, relatively young parents. The grieving process has been longer and more complicated than I expected, and I wish my friends would be more willing to talk rather than simply pretend it didn’t happen. That said, I do understand their lack of understanding. One thing I’ve discovered this past year is that the loss of a parent is akin to the birth of a child – the enormity of the experience truly can’t be imagined until one goes through it. Like the empathy I developed for new parents after my own children were born, I now have an incredible amount of empathy for anyone who loses a parent.

  102. D says...

    Hi Joanna – this is a great piece but I have to be honest its seems a bit incongruous to have this and an ice-cream sandwich taste test on top of each other. I guess both have their place but I think you look a bit silly posting them so close together.

    • Grief and loss never appear when its appropriate. Reading through all the comments on here show that the timing was helpful for many people who are experiencing it right now.

    • I respectfully disagree. Isn’t that a bit like life? A mix of small joys, like ice cream sandwiches, and heavy loads to bear?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you for your note, D! at cup of jo, we actually strive to reflect all aspects of life and people’s days — from ice cream to grief, from dresses to career goals, from vacations to depression. sometimes it seems funny to be talking about all these things (and much more) in one place, but that’s what life is all about, i think! thank you again for your note, and for reading xoxo

  103. jeannie says...

    This is such a helpful and beautiful post. Sending love to all those who have lost someone they love.

  104. Leanne says...

    Thank you for this. :)

    The saddest funeral I’ve ever been to was for my aunt, who suffered a brain aneurysm in her 30s, many years before she actually died. In a way, she died with her aneurysm, but we couldn’t officially mourn until her body had stopped. After the aneurysm, she suffered permanent brain damage that meant she needed constant care and supervision. She could no longer live with her children or speak to them, and we don’t know if she could even recognize them.

    Even having seen it, I still don’t know what to say to people who lose someone like that – in cases where the brain has been damaged to a point that the person is no longer present, yet the person is not technically dead. I honestly don’t know. It’s almost like some people die twice.

    I think a lot of these tips apply, except it’s a little different because often the family takes on the burden of caring for a brain damaged person, while still grieving the loss. And as a society, we don’t hold funerals for the brain damaged, and sometimes I wish we did.

  105. Jessie says...

    My maternal grandparents were killed in a car accident. One of the best things a friend said to me was “I wish I knew what to say”. My grandparents’ death was so violent and so unexpected, I appreciated that she recognized she was at a loss for words while trying to comfort me. I appreciated that she gave me the space to breathe and grieve, without diminishing my pain with empty platitudes.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, Jessie.

  106. Kristin says...

    I went through a hard few years where I miscarried four times and then also lost my best friend to cancer at age 34. I think of grief like being out a little too deep in the ocean, struggling with wave after wave and not knowing when it will stop. People always said to me that miscarriage is “so common” and it felt so dismissive and nonchalant. I appreciate reading about grief and hearing others stories. I loved getting cards, especially if they were kindly written and the best thing is to remember the person lost with someone.

  107. Avigail says...

    In Judaism, the week after the person is deceased, their close relatives sit shiva for them each day and have allotted times for visitors to comfort the mourners. The community sends them meals during this time, so the mourner doesn’t have to figure out the mundane logistics of food. But among the various Jewish customs of mourning, I want to focus on one that I feel relates best to this article. The visitors are not supposed to speak to the mourner first. The mourner is supposed to initiate any conversation. I don’t know the deeper reasons for this except on the most simple level, it gives the mourner the choice of If, when and what of conversations. They can choose silence and just quietly be comforted by the presence of those who came to show support and love. Often this is very powerful to see a room full of people several times a day for a week, as it shows how meaningful the deceased was to others. But the mourner can also choose to engage their visitors, ask for stories about their loved one, and share their own. My biggest issue with your proposed grieving dos (I agree with all the donts) is that it supposes everyone wants to discuss their loved one in great detail. Maybe they don’t… let them decide and use their cues as the guide. I have been to Shivas where the mood was ‘light’ with a lot of joking and storytelling. And others of intense sobbing. At the end of visiting the mourner, we say a line ‘may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem” and also some say that we hope to share in happier times together. It’s considered a blessing that we should meet at happier occasions.

  108. Abby Low says...

    This Modern Love essay (link below) was published two months to the day after the devastating loss of our daughter. The father’s writing spoke so deeply to my own pain and grief and simply not knowing how to act afterwards. Since then I’ve shared this with friends and friends of friends who’ve also lost children. And, every once in a while, I read it again to remember those raw feelings and emotions and how grief is a shared human experience.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/fashion/first-son-stillborn-husband-wife.html

    – and –

    I heard this stunning quote on the podcast “Resilience After Unimaginable Loss” by Krista Tippett with Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant: “Our child dies a second time when no one speaks their name.” I have felt this. And so it is a gift when a friend mentions my daughter by name, remembers her birthday, or asks about some memory I have of her. I no longer feel alone in carrying her memory and story.

  109. Suzie says...

    I think there are too many rules about grief, what to say and what not to say. It is true that some comments can be offensive to some but others may find comfort in them. It is hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving (this coming from a person who has experienced grief). Sometimes there isn’t really any “right” thing. I do say that people are in my thoughts and prayers because they ARE, even if it is over-said. I do think one of the best things is to continue to check in and to come up with tangible ways of helping that don’t put the pressure on the grieving person to come up with an idea. So you can bring food, come over and clean their bathroom, take them out to lunch, leave a little gift, send a card on the anniversary, etc. instead of saying “let me know if you need anything.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great point, suzie. thank you so much for sharing.

    • Rosheen says...

      Agreed, I like to know people are thinking about me and my family and I am just annoyed by “anything I can do” comments because they just seem so insincere. I used to say this to and I won’t anymore.

  110. Vickie N says...

    My Dad passed away in October 2016. I grieve him daily and took losing him harder than I imagined. My Dad was often in harm’s way being a soldier. He battled cancer for 23 years. He suffered a heart attack and died. I have no clue how to do this. I do see a counselor and try to reach out to friends and my mom. But I have heard some of the comments listed. I try not to repeat the things people have said. Many said if you need anything but none of them answer a text. Go figure right! Enough venting thanks for this

  111. Lee says...

    Sheryl Sanberg spoke so well on this topic in her On Being interview about her book Plan B. She agreed with these sentiments, discussing how people would make small talk or not know what say, always avoiding bringing up her late husband in fear of “reminding” her, as if there was ever a moment in that first year that she just forgot her husband had died. I found that to be such important advice. I feel that I’ve made huge mistakes in this department with friends in the past, I was so grateful for all she shared on this, and I’m glad to see this post!

  112. Dana says...

    At a time of mourning in my life, I had one friend who would always ask “What can I do for you?” instead of “Let me know if I can I do anything,” or “Do you need anything?” Being asked WHAT would be helpful rather than IF I NEEDED anything made it so much easier for me to say, “You know what, I really do need someone to go do ___,” or “I would like if you just stayed to talk with me.” Now I use her phrasing of “What can I do for you?” constantly, not only when folks are grieving, and I try to be extra conscious of the unintentional implications of language I use.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great idea, dana. thank you.

    • Katie says...

      I love this idea – such a simple change in phrasing to express the genuineness of the offer.

  113. Claire says...

    I always almost comment when you post on grief, but I always chicken out. I really appreciate you posting on this topic regularly, all of your posts really help my heart.

    You and I became mothers just one day apart, it’s part of what drew me to your blog (that and my sister always sending me links ?). Anyway, without a lot of detail, I am now a grieving mother. A lot of other things too, but grieiving mother seems to be a very defining description of who I am these days.

    As usual, this post was very relatable to me, I’m looking forward to exploring this book more.

    For me, some of the most helpful things the people around me have done, since the death of my oldest, have been:

    -just asking. A dear friend texted once and said “a few weeks ago, you said it was harder every day. I’m just not sure, so I thought I’d ask: is it still harder every day? Or are you breathing more easily yet?” Just asking, meant so much to me.. and the truth is, she didn’t know, so I really appreciated that she didn’t pretend to.

    -we have a dear friend who comes to our house (he lives a bit away) every couple months and is the most calming, helpful presence. He comes up at dinner time and stops for take out from our favorite restaurant (he knows our order now) and just sits on our couch. He doesn’t try to fix anything, or really over suggestions. He eats with us and listens to us. He always stays for many many hours, never in a rush, he really just sits in the process with us. It is such a comfort.

    -remembering anniversaries of his death, his diagnosis, his birthday… HUGE. I LOVED the comment about remembering the second month. Many people remember the first month… after that, I remember every single one. We just passed month 18, the people who remembered… it just means the world.

    There are more, but those are some huge ones for me. (This is already a ridiculously long comment ?)

    Things that don’t help:
    -euphemisms for death don’t help me. We didn’t “lose” my son. He died. Euphemisisms annoy me and confuse my other kids. Follow the parent/spouse/child’s lead on this one… but seriously, not helpful for me.
    -fixing. The death of my son is sad, that’s ok. You don’t have to fix it for me, or offer a solution. Just bring my favorite food and sit with me in it. You can’t fix this.
    -silver linings. “At least…” “you should be thankful…” “you are so lucky that…” just don’t.

    Lastly, because holy length… adults seem terrified that they might say something to make us cry. The truth is, my 5 year old died, so crying is an appropriate reaction. I might cry, and that’s ok. You won’t break me, and I absolutely pinky promise that you won’t remind me that my son died. It’s all I think about, every second. It’s pretty much my second pulse. Talk about him and talk about his life, it makes my heart happy every single time.

    For real, this is the last thing, don’t be afraid of what kids say. They’re always on point and always the ones that adults hush… a little friend brought me a picture she drew of my son saying. “I just don’t want you to forget him.” Made my day… the drawing is on my mantle. Adults? They’re the ones who need some hushing ?)

    Thanks again for posting about grief again. It’s such a hard topic, but so important and so under discussed.

    • KB says...

      I am so incredibly sorry for your loss

    • Gen says...

      I am so so sorry your son died. Sending a big hug and lots of love to your family from Canada.

    • Alexa says...

      I teared up reading this comment. Thank you so much for sharing, Claire. You sound like an amazing mama.

  114. Grieving says...

    Thank you for this post. I’m hiding from my family in the guest room of the vacation lake house as I’m wiping away my tears. I lost my Dad four months ago. I can’t believe he’s gone. It seems exceptionally cruel to my sisters and me. We lost our only parent to a vicious disease. I scour the internet and read grief books in search of others who have witnessed a parent succumb to cancer, to witness their last labored breath, to witness their bodies being bagged and carted away to the funeral home. To me, these strangers have become my solace. They are able to succinctly capture the countless emotions and thoughts that come crashing throughout the day.
    Because so few in my life have lost a parent, it is all the more a jab in the gut. My friends have no reference point on how to behave when it comes to my grief. It’s uncomfortable, awkward and therefore easier to not address it from their perspective. Life keeps chugging along for them as I heave my body against the freight train of life charging full speed at me.
    Grief isn’t linear, it isn’t a 5 stage process. It’s always there on the forefront or on back of your sobering mind. It is your imaginary friend constantly reminding you of what is no longer.
    I am heartbroken.

  115. jill c. says...

    i couldn’t agree more with what not to say and what to say – all of the above! I absolutely cringe when people say “everything happens for a reason”…it’s so removed. It reminds me so much of that little clip you once had on your site Joanna – the one about Empathy (from Dr. Brene Brown) – that little film has been forever stuck in my head ever since i saw it on your site so thank you for posting it. And coming from one who lost both my mom and years later my first child at 32 weeks pregnant – i can so relate to everything that Patrick O’Malley says – remembering the name of the one that is lost is HUGE – and just saying your ‘thinking’ about the person grieving or who died is also a big help – even if it’s just a quick text. Knowing that you’re in someone else’s thoughts means the world when you’re grieving. Oh and please, of all things, don’t try to pressure the person grieving to ‘go out’ at all to any place if they don’t want to in order to cheer them up or get their mind off of things. Grieving is a terribly exhausting process – draining to the core – i remember going out about a month or two after i lost my first child and I still vividly remember how terrible i felt – how i was too exhausted to try and have conversations with people – i just wanted to cry and sleep but my friends thought it would be good to ‘get me out’ – it was all meant with good intentions but it was horrible. The best advice i was given was just to be kind to yourself in whatever way that is or means. Be kind to yourself…..you owe no one anything during this time. you needn’t go to any weddings or birthday parties or showers or ANYTHING! That may sound severe and upset some people in your life but again, you need to take care of you and other who love you will hopefully understand.

  116. I lost my mom in February. We had a complicated relationship, but her death was a shock that still sneaks up on me sometimes. I’ll just feel a wave of grief wash over me out of nowhere. I’m confused by it sometimes because she’s the one person who could both make me scream in frustration and yet also offer me so much love.
    I’m surprised by the people who reached out with cards and concrete plans to get together. And just as surprised by the people who stayed silent. I’ve appreciated the friends who let me share funny stories about her. Or stories where she made me really angry, understanding that I’m still sad she’s gone.
    The worst part is that there’s a good chance my father will pass away this year, too. On more than one occasion I’ve turned to my 13 year old chocolate lab and asked him to please hold out at least until next year.

  117. Arielle says...

    I think about Lucy and Paul often. Their story touched me (I’m a nurse and I work with cancer patients) and I send prayers her way. xoxo

    • Pat says...

      Me too. Their story was the first time I thought about death. I was touched by their decision of having child ( I was struggling with secondary infertility then). I was thinking that our pain is like a gas – it fills us completly- I was sure I could not handle no more then I was. Since then my maternal grandparents died and my 38 to husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma. I feel the connection with her across the ocean and time – my husband is still alive but with very poor prognosis. I hope she and their daughter are fine. And – in a way- me and our daughter will also be.
      Thank you Joana for such a topic.

  118. Katelynn says...

    I lost my boyfriend, the love of my life, unexpectedly two years ago. I was surrounded by friends who still have me in awe of how well they took care of me in the aftermath (how did they know how?). They arranged to have someone sleep with me (crucial!) and be with me at all times, also respecting how fine-tuned and sentive you are (if I needed to walk outside alone, they would let me, or if a room had bad vibes, they would suggest we go somewhere else). Some of the best things echo O’Malley above: “What’s your favorite memory with Rich?” “When did you know you were in love?” “What is your favorite thing about him?” “And you don’t have to respond, but I want you to know how sad I am and how much I am thinking of you.” Also, the friends who would call or let me call and listen to me bawl and grieve without judgment or exposition, saying little more than “I know,” or “I can’t imagine.” I remember one of these conversations just days after he died, while on a long car drive home where I talked and cried in the phone with my friend for well over an hour before I found the courage to kind of laugh and say through my tears, “and how are you?”

  119. Janna says...

    A couple of years ago I lost a childhood friend. I live in a different country from where I grew up, and I live in a different part of the country from her family, so I missed the funeral. I had been able to talk with immediate family members about her loss, but no one else. Recently, a mutual friend and I connected- we didn’t know each other well in high school, but she was close friends with her as well. We spent over an hour talking about her, and how much we miss her. It was the first time I’ve been able to do that, and it was so cathartic, and I think helped both of us grieve.

  120. B says...

    My sister died exactly 2 months ago. I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate “she’s in a better place” or “she’s no longer suffering” and I was so pissed when someone recently said to me (after she asked how I was doing and I honestly answered not so good) “she wouldn’t want you to be down. Get out there and live”. Thank you for this. I was feeling like I was the only person that hated those sayings.

  121. Katie says...

    What a helpful post. Sometimes it can be so hard to know how to help someone grieving, and these ideas are lovely and concrete. Thank you.

  122. Vicky says...

    We just lost our 17 year old son in a car accident, 3 weeks ago. Without a doubt, the thing that has helped us the most is people telling funny “Isaac stories” and having his friends come by the house.
    The worst thing is when you see someone you haven’t seen yet and they want to sob on your shoulder and give you a long, lingering hug.
    I hate it. It just compounds my grief to have to deal with the grief of others, who are understandably, also grieving, but it is hard not to have a choice in the matter. I was-and I kid you not- getting a pedicure and someone gave me one of those hugs, just days after he passed. It just makes you feel stuff that maybe you’d like to keep to yourself in Wal Mart or maybe you’d just like to not cry for 20 minutes or deal with anyone else crying. So, if you are visiting someone who is grieving- be strong, bring food and offer to do something specific. We appreciated people who helped us make phone calls to the funeral home and insurance companies and who helped us go through his room to donate clothes.

  123. Elle says...

    My advice would be to push a little and not shy away from closeness when someone has experienced loss.. I sometimes think we give too much space to others in times of difficulty, not wanting to intrude. I’ve made that mistake in the past and once a friend had the courage to tell me that my choice to give space was not the right thing for her. And then I really understood it when I lost my mother. Two things stand out from that time when my mother died. I will never forget a very kind act of a friend of mine. She called me up and offered to come over the next day and I initially rejected the offer saying ‘no, that’s ok. I’ll be ok.’ She called me back and said ‘I’ve arranged childcare for tomorrow just in case you change your mind.’ That made it so easy to allow her to be there for me when I was a bit hesitant, leaning towards my tendency for self-reliance and avoiding vulnerability. When she did this I knew she was serious about helping me and making herself available. It made it easier for me to let her in. I took her up on her offer to visit. It really helped me and it is one of the things that stands out the most about being supported at that time. Another memory is from when I received the call that my mother had died. I was at a dinner party and a family member was repeatedly calling so I picked it up. I was clearly getting some bad news as I quickly left the room. A moment or two later a friend came in the room and he just held me in his arms not even knowing yet what had happened. He could have been hesitant but he came right in, no questions asked and just held me and then I told him what had happened. I can still remember the feeling of being in his arms right after getting that news. It was so comforting.

  124. Nicola says...

    I also lost my dad last year when I was 25 and tried really hard to take things in the manner they were intended (including the friend who told me God had a plan)

    My one tip is to remember that what you want, which may be many details to calm your own anxiety (lots of people asked very personal questions about my dad’s health, I was tempted to get a tshirt ‘very fit,non smoker, it could happen to anyone’) is not always aligned with what the grieving person wants (not to deep dive into details of a very traumatic time)

    Also there’s nothing wrong with my favourite text ‘This is so shit’

  125. As someone that lost my big sister and my sister-in-law (slash close friend) in the span of two years, I have learned a couple things.

    First, I agree with a lot of what O’Malley says, but also that some of these statements aren’t helpful for everyone. For instance, being curious about the grieving person’s relationship to the one who died. Sometimes it’s too soon for questions like that. Even “I’m so sorry” begins to sound hollow. What’s helpful for one person may not be helpful for another. Strangely, at the end of the day, there are no good words. From anyone. Words can’t fix the wrongness and brokenness that is death. Someone’s presence, with no words at all, was the most comforting for me. Hugs. Handing me a cup of water. Scratching my back lightly. Words felt like too much, like people were trying too hard.

    Second, as much as I feel the weight of personal loss, I still feel so unequipped and unhelpful when I’m attempting to comfort a friend. Maybe that’s even more evidence that death is blindsiding and wrong and there’s nothing we as the living can do about it. Even though I’ve experienced death and I know that no words are especially helpful, I find myself thinking of some of the above statements that O’Malley mentioned and mentally crossing them out. “Nope, won’t be comforting.” “Not going to solve anything.” Then I have to learn to just be with the person. Available. Keeping my hands open always. No matter how much loss you’ve personally experienced, helping someone else through it still feels impossible…because we can’t fix it. One of my favorite examples of a beautiful response to death is the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias. When Clairee says to M’Lynn, “Here! Hit Ouiser. Go ahead M’Lynn, slap her!” It was just what M’Lynn needed to hear. Because God knows we want to hit something.

  126. Laurel says...

    Have you read the grieving posts on Pinch of Yum? The blog’s author, Lindsay, had a son who was born very prematurely and then died within a few days. She has a lot of posts about the process and her feelings and she is such an incredible writer! Her instagram has a lot of magical posts as well about the topic. I don’t have children, but I wept when I read her words. I found it so moving, that I wanted to recommend it to someone. But to who? I (thankfully) don’t have any friends in her position right now. Finally a found a place to recommend it!

    • MK says...

      I agree, her posts are amazing! I’ve followed her blog for years and was so excited when she announced she was pregnant, and so heartbroken for them when I read what happened. I’m planning on going into ob/gyn and I’m so grateful that she has been so open about what she’s going through. Her writing is beautiful and I am hopeful that it will make me more sensitive and empathetic to my future patients in difficult situations.

      Thank you to everyone commenting for sharing your experiences and insights with us!

  127. bisbee says...

    My mother has been gone 24 years. I don’t think about her every day, but sometimes I dream about her…and it is so real! It is very comforting…I look forward to those dreams.

    The death of a spouse or a child is quite another story. Each circumstance is different. I have experienced neither, thank goodness, but I think the loss of a parent, especially an elderly parent, can be more bearable than other losses.

    • R says...

      I have read your comment.
      My dear Mom passed away 2 months ago. She was 98.
      Easy, I don’t think so.
      I am an”onlie” and have a family,
      But my Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s and I feel a real void in my life. It doesn’t matter how old or young the loved one was.
      It is still a tremendous loss.

  128. Logan says...

    My family went through a horrific tragedy nearly two years ago. Having come through the darkest of moments, I can say that I have no memory of the comments or statements that my loved ones made at that time. I only remember their presence, and being enveloped in their love. To those who aren’t sure how to comfort a grieving friend, I would offer my personal opinion that saying anything is better than nothing, and that actions will be remembered long after the words are forgotten.

    I would also echo the advice above that grief is not linear or finite. I think Gemma stated it perfectly when she said “I can’t ever put the bag down, it is with me forever, but now I’m strong enough to carry it.” Just because I no longer wear my grief like a shroud does not mean that it is not in the back of my mind at all moments- that it has not permanently changed my life. To me, the kindest gestures have been those I received in the months and year that followed my loss- a simple reminder that your loved one is still remembered, and your broken heart not forgotten.

  129. EmilyR says...

    My mom passed away early this year, after a terrible illness. She had a long, full life, and people seem astonished that I’m still grieving her death. Grief is so strange and unpredictable; I treasure those people who are comfortable enough with life’s sad moments to be genuinely curious about how I’m doing.

  130. Jossie says...

    I’ve lost both my parents and two brothers through different circumstances so pretty much have lived with grief since I was 17. We just lost our beloved dog who sat by me day in day out after the death of my older brother then my mother. These dos and don’ts are spot on. I’d add to the don’ts on the death of a pet “is it too soon to ask if you’ll get another dog?’. Yes it is. You wouldn’t say that about a human a few days after their death. WTH?! My condolences to everyone here posting about losing a loved one – goodness knows I’ve felt all the feelings. You defintely develop an enormous empathy for others going through grief, sadness and depression having experienced it yourself. Hugs and love to all those grieving and sharing here. Cup of Jo – you are the best – my favourite blogger by miles – and this post is the best and so important.

    • Sue says...

      I couldn’t agree more that many of these comments also apply when someone has lost a pet. Having people diminish my grief because it was ‘only’ an animal both angered and upset me more. Many people feel their pets are part of the family, and their unconditional love leaves it’s own painful hole. In addition to not asking if you’ll get another dog/cat, please also don’t say anything along the lines of ‘well, they were old’. Again, you’d never say that if someone lost an elderly parent.

  131. Mouse says...

    My mother died in 1973 when I was 12. I can say that it does get better but it never goes away. It kind of absorbs into you, becomes a part of you.

    Don’t be afraid of death and grief. Just say you’re sorry and hold them tight. Think human, not God, not time. Just….human.

  132. Thanks to a post I read here on CoJ a few years ago that suggested one ask not “How are you?” but “How are you today?”, my approach to grieving friends has been revolutionized. I cannot tell you how many times someone has responded that that one simple word really means so much — it indicates that the inquirer realizes that grief is not linear, and that every day is different.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love hearing that, Alexa. Thank you xoxo

  133. Kari says...

    This is so lovely and helpful, thank you for sharing. My additional comment would be that grief can swell up in unexpected times, and that’s okay. I lost my beloved grandfather almost two years ago, and the grief has faded significantly but is always still there. Sometimes, for no reason, I’ll get thinking about him and the grief will hit me like a truck all over again. Family and friends are kind to be sensitive to our grief on special days like birthdays or anniversaries, but I would also ask that they be supportive when sometimes it comes out of the blue. It’s hard to turn to someone for comfort in those times knowing I will have to also justify why my grief has come on so randomly or unexpectedly.

  134. fmbe says...

    Our daughter died in infancy. Her identical twin sister is now four. I so so wish someone would ask me about her sister. She only lived 5.5 months but I could talk about her forever.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh, FMBE, I’m so sorry for your loss. What was your daughter’s name? What was she like? I would really love to hear.

    • fmbe says...

      Thank you. Her name is Raffaella. She was born at 27 weeks along with her sister Francesca. She never got to come home and died 5.5 months later, still in the NICU. Despite being tiny and sick,
      she was the utterly sweetest human being I’ve ever encountered. It emanated from her. Just utter utter sweetness. We miss her terribly.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh, Raffaella is the most beautiful name. She sounds like such a sweet, gentle little person. I love your line about how she emanated utter sweetness. What a love. You sound like a truly loving, wonderful mother. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I’ll be thinking of sweet Raffaella today. xoxoxo

    • Fmbe says...

      Thank you. That is very kind. It soothes the ache to have her remembered.

  135. Mary says...

    I understand and I don’t think you need to be too hard on yourself for not letting it go. I’m still bitter about a friend who never checked in with me the week my father was dying and that was over a year ago. I think it’s because we expect from our friends what we’d do for them, so it’s difficult when it’s not reciprocated.

    • Holly says...

      I know how you feel, Mary. I was aghast when we had dinner with friends a few months after we went through a stillbirth and they never brought it up. I was ready to end the friendship right then, but my husband graciously pointed out that they were probably trying to “keep our minds off of it” with a fun night out. It’s helped me continue the friendship with them to assume that they were bumbling around as most of us do until we experience grief firsthand. And then, sadly, we understand.

    • Suzy Quinn says...

      Your comments really resound with me. I have been there, and also felt the disappointment (another type of loss) of not being treated as I’d hoped and would treat others.

  136. I lost my dad at 29 (five years ago now). It was and still is such a hard experience. Gemma is right in what she’s implying. You don’t get over it. Ever. It just becomes less intense and painful.

    I still have days where I cry for no reason or get mad that he’s not here to talk to. But talking about him soothes the pain. And I’m happy sharing memories of him.

    I highly encourage others not to feel weird about asking about the person! It touches a very sweet place, and I can assure you the other person feels grateful that you acknowledged their grief.

    • Caitlin says...

      Hey Ashley – I also lost my dad this year (at 29 years old)…super hard and I agree with a lot of what you say.

      Grief is not something that you ever get over. It’s not supposed to be, in my opinion. It definitely has lessened since day 1 but I know it is always something that will be there. I still cry everyday because I miss him so much.

      The biggest thing I have learned from grief is just to be open about it. I get sad when people don’t ask me about my dad or maybe feel like they can’t talk about him. He was such a huge part of my life, I want to share stories and keep him present in our memories.

      I am still learning this walk grief but I try to talk about my dad and ask people about their loss, share stories, etc. Just because the person isn’t here physically anymore doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share their story.

  137. Margot says...

    I was the first in my closer group of friends to lose their parents. When my mom passed away 9 years ago, my closest friends came by our house with food and wine. It made me feel like we were having just a lovely dinner where we would talk a lot about my mom and share funny stories. We cried and laughed. Everyone knew and loved my mom so much; we were all feeling the pain of losing her. Since then, a few of those friends have lost their mother or father and i was their first call to share the news and pain with, as only then, they said they realized how it trully felt to lose a parent. I choose to give my friends a big strong hug and cry together without having to say a word. They know i really know how it feels like and what they go through.

  138. Rachel says...

    Thank you Cup of Jo. I lost my father in my early 20s. Most of my friends had no experience with loss and struggled to figure out how to respond (many of them, being wonderful people, simply told me they had no idea how to respond which was encouraging because it showed me that they were thinking of me and wishing to help). Our culture does not deal with loss/death/mourning well at all and these pointers are spot on. Thank you again.

  139. Megan McConachie says...

    This is so spot on. One of the only things that helped after my dad died was being able to talk about him, his last days, stories we shared. The people who sat and listened were so incredibly valuable that I have endless gratitude for them. I also have a friend who always texts me on either my dad’s birthday or the anniversary of his death to tell me she’s thinking about me, even after over five years.

    Grief does have stages, but they are unpredictable, recurring, undefinable, messy and surprising. When someone is willing to ride those waves with you, hold on to them tight.

  140. Mary says...

    Thank you for sharing this. I lost my Dad to cancer about a year ago and so much of it rings true. One thing I would add is that it’s important to consider all who were impacted by someone’s loss. My siblings and I (ages 25-29) so often get asked how our mom is doing, which is, of course, very kind and thoughtful. And while she seems the most obvious person to ask about since losing a spouse at any age is a horrible thing, we’re always left out, almost like we aren’t grieving his loss as well. Someday, it would be nice to hear, “and how are you?”

    • caroline says...

      I agree. After my sister passed away from cancer at age 30, people often commented on how hard it must be for my (our?) parents. All I could think (but not say) was, you think this is easy for me? She was supposed to outlive our parents and be my person I could count on (e.g., to spend Thanksgiving with).

    • Miri says...

      Wow, Mary. I have never had anyone else identify this as something that bothered them. I too, feel the same way. I lost my dad 5 years ago while in my mid 20s, and still people ask me how my mom is doing (often with a meaningful look). While a sweet sentiment, there is something kind of grating about the question that I was never quite able to put my finger on. I’m so sorry you hear about your dad, and hope you are taking care of yourself on the one year anniversary of your loss. xx

    • jennifer says...

      Mary, thank you for posting this. I can’t agree more. I lost my dad this past christmas day. Folks always ask how my mom is doing (which is very kind). But, I would love for someone to ask “and how are you doing?” Since then, I know a couple people that have lost loved ones. I always as how they are first then of the other people impacted.

    • Nicola says...

      Mary I agree with this, for a long time my siblings and I became really preoccupied with making sure mum was ok because that now seemed like our responsibility.

    • Laura says...

      Absolutely this. So many people have asked me about my dad but never about me and my sister, and we miss our mom every day, even though we are mothers ourselves. I think it comes from an idea that it is easier for me to talk about my dad’s loss than my own, but sometimes it minimizes my loss and actually feels like an invasion of my dad’s privacy. Sometimes I want to reply, if you want to know, ask him!

    • Christie says...

      I lost my dad at 12 and this was what I remembered most. People always asked about my mom. Or they told me that I needed to be strong for her and help her. I never felt like anyone reached to me. I’m 37 now and I still feel that pain.

    • I remember getting asked that a lot, about my Dad, after Mom died. I realized that was people’s “gateway question”. It was too uncomfortable or scary for someone to ask me how I was doing, so they asked about my dad instead. Sort of like circling the plane but never landing.

      It often felt…lonely. Now (14 years later) I feel much more gracious than I did then. I avoided the topic too, before grief actually came into my life.

    • Kato says...

      I hear you Mary, I have the same experience after losing my dad. And while I fully understand the ” impact on daily life” (for lack of a better term) of his dying might be greater for my mum, it sometimes grates to have people asking first how she’s doing. It was my dad, I miss him terribly too.
      That said, in my experience people feel this need to find the right words, which is really really hard. But I found for me it did not matter so much what they said as long as the message in it is: I’m here, I see you’re hurting, I think of you. Just that.
      Finally I really loved the quote in a prev post here on grief “every lament is a love song”. While the heaviest of the sadness lifts, the fact that I can still feel so sad at times, for me means that he is still somehow a part of me. Weirdly enough the sadness is a comfort in that way.

    • brianna says...

      That’s the thing I struggled with the most after my grandfather died. Everyone asked how my parents were, but not how I was, not how my brother was. I don’t know how my brother was because he would never tell me. And now I struggle because my mother won’t talk to anyone about anything. It was like losing two people in one fell swoop and it’s wreaking havoc on me.

  141. I lost my mother five years ago, and one thing I wish more people would do is offer to do something that I miss doing without her. Shopping on Saturday afternoons can be surprisingly lonely without her; it’s something we always used to do together. My friend who is recently estranged from her mother mentioned the other day that she wishes she someone would take her out for salads and mani-pedis. We decided to do it together, since no one else was going to fill that void. So, if you know someone is grieving a loss, ask about what rituals they miss doing with their loved one, and offer to do it with them if they ever need it.

    • Oh, Bethany. I am so sorry for the loss of your mom.

      Your advice is beautiful. I don’t have a mother in my life, and you touched on a really tender spot for me. There are certain voids people grieving a loss — any loss — feel, and the gift of someone recognizing that and offering to help fill it is unspeakably valuable. Thank you for sharing!

    • Lizzie says...

      That’s a beautiful gesture.

    • Stacy says...

      Thank you for this. I can imagine that specific type of company would be so meaningful.

    • Holly says...

      That is really lovely, helpful advice . Thank you!

    • Suzy Quinn says...

      Thank you.. Thats a great idea. I can’t tell you how often I see something I would’ve told my mom about.

    • Stephani L. says...

      Love this!!

  142. Katie says...

    I suffered a miscarriage almost exactly two years ago. It was devastating, not only because I had been so looking forward to welcoming this new person in my life, but because very few of my loved ones managed to understand the grieving process. My Mom repeatedly said “everything happens for a reason” to me, which I found horrifying. Babies don’t die for a reason. I am lucky to have made it through that terrible, difficult time and now proud to say I am a mama to a beautiful, light-up-the-room baby girl. But the process forever changed how I approach other people’s tragedies and losses. These are extremely good tips everyone should have in the back of their mind for dealing with life’s inevitable heartaches.

    • Janine says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Katie. I couldn’t agree more. I suffered a miscarriage two months ago, and it taught me so much about how to treat the grieving. It was so frustrating when well-meaning people would tell me, “at least it was early on,” or “you’re young enough to keep trying,” or “it just wasn’t meant to be.” Miscarriages are such an embodied experience, it’s a level of grief that feels more intimate, and in my case (a “missed” miscarriage), the embryo was still inside me. I just wanted people to say they were sorry and to listen if I wanted to talk.

    • Kathleen Souder says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Katie. Losing a baby to miscarriage is a cruel grief, because it can be so unnoticed and unmarked for almost everyone but the parent/s. Xo

    • Katie says...

      Thanks, Kathleen. Janine, I am sorry for your loss, too. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But it is good to hear that we are not alone. I think that’s why these tips resonated. I think almost any difficult situation—breakups, deaths, firings, tough family situations, illnesses, etc.—can be kindly addressed by saying “I am so sorry you are going through that. I am here for you.”

  143. Beth says...

    Wow. This post comes a few days before the 11th anniversary of my mom’s death. After 11 years I can tell you, the grief has faded but it still wells up every now and then. Especially right now, as July 28 approaches. It’s always weird in the middle of summer, with sunny days and care free activities, to have a cloud of gray come over me. But that’s how it is. The deep dark pit in my stomach balls up and I feel it coming…

    One thing I would add for someone to say (or write), is something my friend wrote to me in a card about a month after my mom died. She said something like “now is the time for you to do what you want to do. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you should do anything you don’t want. Say no. Say yes. Whatever you want, now is your time.” It was such a relief to read those words, because there is this unspoken expectation that after a certain period of time, you will be back up and at ’em and ready to talk about it and be with supportive friends. For me, for about two years, I went through the motions of life because I had to (get up, go to work, come home, eat). But I didn’t have much energy or desire to do anything else. I felt guilty not socializing, saying no to invitations from well-meaning friends, and just wanting to be alone.

    Those words gave me permission to grieve how I needed to, and helped a lot.

    • Emma says...

      Hello Beth, I truly hope your day tomorrow is as good as it can be. I will be thinking of you even though I’ve never met you because it’s my son’s second birthday on the 28th too, and it’s been a crazy blur of frustration/no sleep/pure joy that we seem to be coming out of gradually. So we’ll both be on opposite sites of the world having a very different day for very different reasons! xoxox

    • Beth says...

      Emma – You know what’s really crazy, in my story of grief? My sister had her son on July 28th, three years after my mom died. So now our family has a birthday and a “death day” to celebrate. At first I was sad that my nephew’s birthday would overshadow our mom’s death, but we figured she had some role in this, as if to let us know that it’ll all be okay. The circle of life and death is real, and amazing…

      Thank you for thinking of me!
      xoxo

  144. RLG says...

    My dad passed away 9 years ago and one of the loveliest things that anyone said to us afterwards was from my sister’s lifelong friend: “Your dad was so special and amazing and I will talk about him and share memories of him with your [future] kids, so that they can “know” him, too.”

  145. brianna says...

    I lost my grandfather a little more than two months ago and the grief is still real. I wish people had reached out to me when it happened – I had one friend show up (she even came for the funeral, which was above and beyond). Nobody else could be bothered to even check in, and nobody has checked on me in the time since. This whole thing is kind of a sore spot with me – I know I need to let it go, but I’m the kind of friend who sends a card and will show up at your door with pizza and ice cream. It’s hard to not have that reciprocated, even if it’s just a text.

    • Colleen says...

      My grandpa has been dead almost sixteen years and there are days when I miss his voice or his smell. It does hurt less after some time, but your friends definitely could have expressed their condolences or something. I realize it’s hard if it has never happened to you, but at least letting you know they’re thinking of you would have helped.

  146. Jane says...

    I lost my dad when I was 8 in 1993, and my mom last year when I was 31. I don’t remember much from when my dad passed away, but last year I heard lots of “She’s in a better place” “Everything happens for a reason”- two sentiments I now hate. What better place could my mom be than with her two children?? And why did my mom have stage 4 brain cancer for a reason? I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with death and do not know what to say and are just repeating sentiments they’ve heard- and I would never be upset at those saying them as I know they are just trying to make me feel better- but those two really stung.

    I also think its important to know that people deal with grief in different ways. I had a friend of 16 years get upset with me because I wasn’t grieving in the way she thought I should be ( I basically sat on the couch for two months watching TV because it was the only thing to take my mind off of what happened)- we ultimately had a falling out- but its unfair to think someone should be dealing with grief in a different way when you are not in their exact shoes.

    The brick analogy is pretty spot on- my load isn’t as heavy as a year ago, but its still always there, weighing on my heart. <3 great post!

  147. Amber Olney says...

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  148. ESA says...

    Thank you so much for this. I just lost my grandmother on Sunday, and have been at a loss about what to say to my mother and grandfather. I never comment, but I want you to know how strangely wonderful the timing of this post has been.

  149. Alexandra H. says...

    This post it so timely. My brother Markus unexpectedly passed away in March of this year. His birthday is on August 3rd, I find that I am trying my best to not think about it. Our family is going to go to his favorite Japanese restaurants in his honor.

    My grief is ever changing, and I am amazed at how different I can feel day to day. I was also surprised at how instantly empathetic I became for those around me who have also experienced a loss. It was like a light switch moment.

    • Logan says...

      I understand completely what you mean by everyone else’s loss becoming your own. To me, this is the greatest irony (and miracle) of heartbreak- that it seems your heart expands well beyond the limits of your own life and body. Oddly, my sister’s birthday is also August 3rd. It will be the second year I celebrate without her. Sending love to you and your family, wherever you are.

    • Lauren says...

      Alexandra- I lost my brother unexpectedly nearly twelve years ago now. I know just what you mean about the connectivity of grief. You suddenly gain membership to a club you never could have understood before. Though it is so different now, less acute, not a constant presence, all these years later grief can still surprise me. Celebrating my brother’s birthday was both comforting and hard in the beginning, but has come to be a tradition I love. My brother was passionate about the outdoors and I cherish eating food he loved, or spending time on a hike, and sharing stories and memories. Though we don’t know each another, know that another member of the club will be thinking of you as you remember Markus next week.

    • Blandine says...

      I am so sorry for your loss. I love the idea of getting together in his honor. Sending hugs to you and your family.

    • Rosheen says...

      My brother Rory just died 2 months ago and I have been so worried about what to do on his birthday. Makes me feel such guilt that we didn’t spend his last one together it’s so nice to hear you about how you will spend Markus’ birthday. Will be thinking of you too. Agree I hate being part of this club but feel deep connection to others who have had deep loss and grief.