We mean well, but sometimes we don’t speak well.

Most of us are careful with our words. We pay attention to the context, we listen to others, we look for ways to encourage, to inform, to direct, to clarify.

You are laughing right now. So am I.

The truth is that we would like to be careful with our words, but we are not.

We speak at the same time we are thinking. We react as often as we respond. We say things we wish we could unsay. Even before we complained that Twitter doesn’t let us edit tweets, we realized that sometimes, no amount of explanation can take away the pain that words cause.

The conversations we have with people in grief are often our worst moments. We are uncomfortable over their tears and questions and pain. We are uncomfortable with the thought of death. We are uncomfortable with dressing up to visit.

And we use words to alleviate our own pain, unwittingly inflicting additional pain on others. Telling a woman who is grieving a baby lost before birth that “at least you are young” is, or should be, as unthinkable as saying to a woman grieving a spouse, that “you can always find another one.”

Often we turn to the Bible, and use phrases like, “God knows the plans he has for you, plans to prosper you.” and “All things work together for good” or “God has a plan.” Taking verses out of context aside, when Jesus was faced with the death of a friend, he adjusted his responses to the expressions of the sisters. With Martha, he conversed. With Mary, he wept.

I tell families after a loss that people will say stupid things, but that they mostly mean well. And I offer them this response: “I know you mean well but that’s not how I feel at the moment.”


For more of what I say in these moment, you can preview or purchase This Is Hard: What I Say When Loved Ones Die