What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

July 28, 2019 By Bethany Gower

Have you ever sat with a friend who was going through an absolutely heartbreaking time, and you didn’t even know where to begin to help?

If you’re reading this, the answer is probably yes.

As humans, we want to connect and help those we love. We may feel this incessant need to fill any moment of silence with words, choosing cliches and platitudes that may feel comfortable for us, but in reality don’t help anyone.

“They’re in a better place.”

“This is what was meant to be.”

“They aren’t suffering anymore.”

These are just some of the cringe-worthy phrases I’m sure we have all heard before. I have a family friend whose husband died within the last year, and not long after, someone told her “It’s okay, this was all in God’s plan.” She smiled and nodded, but on the inside she said to herself, “Really? This is God’s plan?? Me raising two teenage girls by myself was definitely NOT His plan.”

She knew this person meant well, but statements like this can cause even more pain to a grieving heart.

So, why do we fear the silence so much?

Why do we feel this need to fill the silence with the same phrases we have all heard over and over again, saying things that we know from experience didn’t help us?

The reality of it is this: People are not okay with other people not being okay.

Which makes sense right? We don’t wish for bad or painful things to happen to the people we love. We want them to be happy. We want them to be themselves again. But, one thing we must learn is that it is okay for people around us to hurt. It is okay for them to cry. And it is especially okay for them to do these things with us present.

So, if we can’t say the things everyone says to grieving people, what do we do in these moments of pain when our loved ones are hurting?

Embrace these feelings with them. Hold them. Allow them to feel all the emotions that they keep inside. Be empathetic in these moments. Allow yourself to feel what they feel. There is a quote by Will Rogers that says “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

In moments where you don’t know what to say to a hurting heart, don’t. Don’t say anything at all. Just feel. Just listen. Just BE. It says more than you’ll ever know. Let your love be felt instead of heard.


Bethany Gower is an undergraduate intern at The Grief Center and is guest-writing our blog this month.