“What’s wrong?” we ask a coworker who looks stunned after a phone call.
“My mom just died.”
It’s a moment that can leave us speechless. Or maybe it should. Because we feel a need to fill the space (and our discomfort) with words. We start fixing and telling and offering and answering.
My colleagues and I are in those moments every day, standing with families and friends by the bed of a loved one who has died. As hospital chaplains, we have learned that usually, the most helpful thing to do is simply to be present and be quiet.
Across time, I started learning some of the things that can be helpful to say eventually. I listened to what people were saying and responded.
In This Is Hard: What I Say When Loved Ones Die, I gathered those responses into a small book that can be given to someone in those hard moments to take with them and read. I also added some journaling prompts that can help with processing over the days and weeks following the death.
If you are responsible for caring for people at those really hard moments, as a chaplain or pastor or healthcare worker, having some on hand to share would make sense. I know of one hospital system starting to use it that way. It’s also helpful for people who have conversations with loved ones and need some ideas of what to say. Another chaplain is sharing it with several nurses in that context.
So you can see what I say, and get ideas right away, you can read the book at thisishard.pressbooks.com.
This isn’t a comprehensive resource on grief and loss. But in the first moments, we don’t need a research book. We need friendly, quiet words. And that’s what I try to do.