What to Say When There's Nothing to Say?


I’m asked on a regular basis, “How do you do it?”  The question refers to my line of work where sadness, tears and mortality stare me in the face everyday.   The follow up to this question is usually, “What do you say to someone who’s lost someone?”  Centuries of mankind and generations of funeral directors have yet to provide concrete answers to these questions.  Personally, I take the honest approach in that I recognize there are no words to say.

Years of being in my profession have always caused me to want to speak words of utmost comfort to those who come through my door.  I remember my earlier years when I would think in advance of anything I could possibly offer to make someone feel slightly better as they come to the table to plan their loved one’s goodbye.  Although well intentioned, I was naïve.  For time and experience would later teach me that there truly are no words to say to someone to heal the initial shock and sadness of loss.  There are no words to erase the hurt or numb the pain even when time has passed.  What there is, however, is the recognition that the loss a person feels is personal, heart wrenching, and beyond the reproach of words.  Words don’t get people past their grief, but rather the people who wish to speak them make all the difference.

The best thing you can do for someone suffering a loss is to acknowledge you don’t have the words, you don’t have the answers, but you just want to be there for them.  Do not consume yourself with finding the right words to say, rather, open your ears and hearts to listen.  Be honest with the friend or relative you are trying to help.  Acknowledge the fact that no words can minimize their grief nor take away their pain, but you just want them to know that you will be there with them and for them.

Often less is more.  When helping someone with the pain of loss, speaking less and listening more may provide the exact comfort a person is seeking.  Sometimes words need not be spoken in order for a person to feel your presence.  So if anyone you know is grieving, simply be there for them.  Don’t waste time in finding the perfect words to say, for none exist.  Acknowledge their pain, acknowledge that words fall short but vow to remain with them and provide them all the support they need and want.   Even if they can’t find the words to say “thank you”, the bereaved individual will undoubtedly be comforted by your presence, your concern and your kindness.

Wishing hope and comfort to all those in need,


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