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What to Say… When You Don’t Know What To Say
Finding the words to support a loved one through the grieving process
by Lori Pederson

When my mother passed away, I received a card from a friend of mine that touched me so deeply I can still remember it 15 years later.  The card was humorous and the note he wrote was the perfect balance of empathy, humor and reality.  You see Chris had lost his father about a month before I had lost my mom and he knew intimately what I was going through.  This card was the cornerstone to developing the website   I wanted to encourage people to be thoughtful and supportive of their friends and family when they are going through a great loss.  The topic of death is difficult and many people “freeze” when the topic comes up.  Our website is dedicated to helping people find the words when you don’t know what to say.


Put your heart into it.  There are many ways to express your deep concern and support for a friend or family member when they have lost a loved one.  I have found that when you put your heart into what you write it makes all the difference.  One of the cards I received simply said, “I just wanted you to know that I have been thinking about you all week, and I will keep you in my prayers.”  It was from a friend’s mother that I did not know very well, but I was so touched that she would take the time to send a card.  I could feel the love and sincerity in the note and it made a lasting impression on me.


Know your audience.  People have many belief systems when it comes to death, grief and the burial process.  Religion, culture, family experiences, personality, the age of the person and their gender can all impact how they handle the grieving process.  It is important to take these factors into consideration and not diminish the person’s feelings or beliefs.  This is not a time to “preach” to someone.  It is a time to reach out and open your heart.


Offer your support.  The most fundamental thing you can offer someone in grief is your support.   My friend Michele sent me this note after my mom passed away, “We will be there to do those things you are not able to” and she really was.  She helped make phone calls to my family the night my mom passed away, she was there at the memorial service, and was there through all the ups and downs as I recovered from this great loss.


I have found that most people appreciate knowing you care about them and that you are there to support them. A simple note of encouragement like this one can make all the difference: “Please know that I'm willing to help you out in any way you might need me to during this difficult time. I'd love to bring your family dinner or take you out for coffee if you ever need to talk.”


My old roommate used to send me cards on my mom's birthday as a reminder that she was thinking of me. My aunt sends her sister-in-law a card on the anniversary of her son's death just to let her know that she is not alone.


I am deeply appreciative of all the love and encouragement I have received from my friends and family through the many losses in my life.  My greatest hope is that everyone receives that kind of deep support when they are going through a loss.

© 2009 Lori Pederson

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:  Lori Pederson, Founder of I Did Not Know What To Say, a website built to inspire and to provide you with tools to assist a love one through the grieving process.   If you would like our free newsletter on how to assist your friends and family members through the journey of restoring balance in their life after the death of a love one, please visit our website at  

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