Beyond “I Don’t Know What To Say.” How to Comfort the Grieving

Feb 25, 2024 | Article, Hope, Hurting, Loss, Loss Of Child, Spiritual Game Plan

They say time flies, and that is true 

Time kept on flying, leaving me behind the day that I lost you.

They say time is relative, a constant no matter what you do.

It’s like a ticking clock taking away my proximity to you.

They say time is the order of events from the past to the present to the yet-to-come.   

My time is in two orders: “She was still alive” or “She was gone.”

They say time is our friend, the only thing that can dull grief’s sharp pain.                     

This is what I now count until I see you again.

 

This is the 6-month Annie-versary.  

Sweet Annie, it seems like you were born yesterday, and an eternity since you’ve been gone. 

Writing about grief was never “my” platform, so I struggle with sharing mine.

Yet, I don’t want to give the impression that I am not struggling.

I will admit my view of grief is filled with compassion and grace now.

The occurrences of struggle and lament now fill my days. 

It is different being on this side of grief, of this kind of pain.

Grief is a wall, and it can, if allowed, divide us. 

There are so many ways to approach this wall of grief. 

  • Some are overwhelmed by its dimensions, so they walk away.
  • Some stand and wait for those who are on the other side to carve an opening for them.
  • Some look for a window to check in but not enter.
  • Some knock on its door but just can’t go through it.
  • And some walk right through that door and join you.

Now that I’m on this side of the wall, I understand each approach to grief.

Grief is a profoundly personal journey, and there’s no universal manual on how to navigate it. 

While each person’s experience of grief is unique, sharing what we’ve experienced and what’s been helpful for us can offer valuable insights and comfort to others who may be supporting a loved one in pain. 

 

It’s my prayer that sharing my personal experiences of grief, including the more challenging aspects and how I’ve found comfort, creates a space for understanding and empathy, encouraging connection and healing and not division during difficult times.

When we are open and willing to share our journey, it can provide comfort, validation, and understanding to those who are also navigating the complex emotions of loss. 

Additionally, it can help break down the stigma surrounding grief and encourage more open and honest conversations about the human experience of suffering.

The most common phrase I hear is:
  • “I don’t know what to say” 

As humans, we just want to say or do something to ease or stop this pain. We know we can’t, so we are honest by saying ‘I have no words.”

I would like to offer a different perspective.

You do know what to say, and you have just the right words.

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I’m praying for you.”
  • “I saw this ____ and thought of you.”
  • “Here is a scripture that brings me comfort.”
  • “I really miss her.”
  • “Here is how ______ impacted my life.”

Or ask:

  • What was their favorite scripture?
  • What was their favorite meal?”
I’ve had friends ask me specifics.

My favorite was – “I’m teaching my child how to drive. How did it go when you taught Annie?”

I could laugh as I recalled Annie turning into oncoming traffic… whew!

When these kinds of thoughts enter your mind, share them. Those are the words to say.

 I’ve also encountered the mindset:
  • “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

I know this is because we don’t want to say anything that could add to the pain.

Again, I would like to offer a different perspective.

Saying nothing can be worse than saying the wrong thing.

Acknowledging my pain and sharing that you miss Annie, too. has been helpful for me. 

Phrases or questions such as: 
  • “That must be so hard.”  
  • “Today I wanted to call Annie and tell her____.”
  • “How is your day going?”
  • “Would there be a good time I could call you?”      

I feel seen and understood by these.

How can we identify things that are not helpful?

When someone tries to identify with me because they have experienced the same or even “worse” pain.

It feels like they’re saying, “My story is harder than yours.” 

My friend Lynn Cowell said it perfectly.

“The one hurting has enough pain to bear. When we are speaking with the one grieving, hearing your story of similar pain in your life, or even if the situation caused them pain as well as, you can cause the hurting person to have to bear the pain of the person sharing and their own pain as well. They are the one grieving, not the one in a position to bring comfort.”

 

Every loss we experience in life is unique to us. I lost my child, my only daughter, my silly girl, my bug, and all the events that would have been a part of our future.

In our family, Annie’s passing meant others lost a sister, sister-in-law, cousin, granddaughter, and niece.

Her friends lost a team member, a co-worker, a girlfriend, an employee, and a confidant. 

Everybody lost a different aspect of Annie, but we all share the pain of losing her.

No matter how well-intentioned you may be, listening to your story of loss may be too overwhelming for someone grieving to hear. So wait to see if they ask you about your story.

It’s important to understand that in moments of intense grief, it’s not that we don’t care about you. We genuinely do. However, our emotional strength is depleted, making it challenging to support anyone else through their pain.

Ask yourself:

Is what I am about to say going to lighten the load of this person who is in the midst of grieving’?

Let your words give those in pain a glimpse of light and hope, not with cliches, but with the reassurance that you are there for them.

 Finally, I’ve found it challenging to initiate communication.

People assume I’ll get in touch when I’m ready.  But I don’t. And I won’t. Not because I’m not ready but because I don’t have the emotional energy to reach out. However, I have the energy to respond. Having someone to reply to actually gives me energy.

 Approaching people in pain is hard! It costs us. It can add to our own pain. 

It can be awkward.

It can be uncomfortable.

We may wonder: If I approach the pain, how long will I need to stay?

Last week, I visited a friend, and we talked about life. Her boys are still young, and she shared her hectic schedule. I remembered those days, and we laughed about some of the things boys do at that age.

She then asked how we were doing and acknowledged that it was our 6-month mark.

We shared tears and hugs. But we were able to move on to other topics.

Having her approach my pain and walk through it with me was incredibly comforting for me.

I’ve been told that this is a process. I’m not sure that word fully defines my new path.

A process is a series of steps that lead to an end.

There is no end to my grief on this earth. The steps I now take are in a different pair of shoes. 

Grief are the shoes I wear as I walk this new path.
Grace is the lens I use to see through it.

As we enter Annie’s six-month “Annie-versary,” I will sit in the moments of tears, I will walk in moments of energy, and I will smile as I remember that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” ( 2 Timothy 1:7 Annie’s Verse)

Now, let me ask you:

Are there any ways you approach pain that you would like to share?

What words or actions have comforted you in your pain?

 

Cheri Fletcher

Cheri Fletcher

Cheri is a dynamic writer, compelling speaker, and the host of the “Your Spiritual Game Plan” podcast. 

She is passionate about guiding individuals in crafting a strategy to live out God’s plan for their lives. Cheri believes that understanding the strategic plots of the enemy is crucial in overcoming life’s challenges.

Through the ups and downs of her journey, Cheri has faced numerous changes and transitions, each feeling like a piece of her identity left with each role. 

Her experiences have equipped her with empathy and insight, enabling her to connect with others navigating similar paths.

Cheri and her husband Todd recently relocated to Cleveland from Seattle, WA. They are the proud parents of two newly married sons, a cherished daughter who recently passed, and a loyal canine companion named Libby. 

Despite life’s twists and turns, Cheri has found comfort and joy in the simple pleasures, particularly the company of friends, walks, and visiting new places.  

Known for her hospitality, she warmly invites anyone into her home for a cup of coffee, regardless of the state of her kitchen.

Leave a Comment

6 Comments

  1. Rachel Pohli

    Hi, Cheri. You don’t know me but I was part of a group at Monroe SDA Church who prayed fervently for your daughter and I was so saddened to hear of her passing. Thank you for sharing your heart. Your faith is an inspiration!

    Reply
    • Cheri Fletcher

      Thank you so much Rachel for letting me know and for praying for Annie! I know God answered our prayers, just not the way we can see for now. I really do appreciate you praying and for leaving me a comment!

      Reply
      • Kimberly Dawn

        Cheri this was so beautiful thank you for sharing. Annie was & is still a huge light. There is so much of her around everyday. There is always something that happens in my day to remind me of her. I miss her everyday. I appreciate everything you wrote cause so many times I do think we don’t know what to say cause we don’t want to cause more pain. I know you love hearing from Annie’s friends, whether it’s stories or us just saying we miss her. Xox🙏🏼❤️

        Reply
        • Cheri Fletcher

          Thank you Kimberly! You were such an important friend to Annie and I love you for loving her. I am glad that the words I wrote from my heart spoke to you! For me, it is so comforting to hear from others that they are also thinking about and missing her. Telling others that you also love their lost loved one is such a gift.

          Reply
  2. Angela

    Beautiful my friend!

    Reply

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