What do you say to someone about their loss

April 7, 2023


My sweet girlfriend died. Suddenly. Without warning. She just up and left. And I, who am all too familiar with grief, taken by surprise, found myself saying to her husband, “What? What do you mean she’s gone! No!”

It was an honest response.

I’ve talked to him often since, and I’ve noticed how our conversations have changed over time.

Shock and disbelief

First, shock and disbelief. That What do you mean? reflected my confusion. I’d just talked to her two days before and it seemed she was getting better. I had no other words at first. Just…NO!

And as the week went on, I found myself simply being there for her husband. Holding space. Supportive words in his time of grief even as I tried to process mine.

I think that’s all someone who has lost a loved one really wants: a caring ear. Someone to hold space.

Holding space for others while grieving, ourselves

And even as we do that, we must recognize that we, ourselves can be grieving. I found myself sitting on the couch just shaking my head, asking myself, what had happened? Had she chosen this way to go with her decisions that week? Why would she choose to leave her soulmate, kids and grandkids. Her friends. Did it just happen? Did she suffer?

I dug deep for clues, for answers.

There were none.

Life happens and then it’s gone, in the blink of an eye. The reasons barely matter. We search long and hard for meaning but there is none. This is the nature of life. And death.

Rena and I had nothing in common and everything in common. That’s the thing with human beings, right? We might not look like a match on the surface but deep inside? Another story. In times of need she turned to me and I to her. She gave me the gift of seeing me. I mean really seeing me. And accepting me. That kind of sister-friend is rare, indeed.

What a void she leaves in my life!

I miss Rena’s huge laugh. Her throaty voice. That hominy grits Kentucky accent. I can hear it still. I will hear it all my life.

And so will the husband she left behind.

What to say now?

So what do you say to someone who is grieving? Who feels the loss keenly?

Most important: you listen. And then you could say:

“Tell me about her.”

“What was your favorite thing to do together?”

“What do you love most about her?”

If you’re afraid talking about her and the loss will remind her loved ones that she’s gone, well, don’t worry about that. They already know she’s gone and they WANT to talk about their memories of her.

I’ve had to cope with a number of losses these past two years and this one was tough because she was just too young to leave us. And I wasn’t prepared. As if we ever are.

As you might expect, I turned to my own grief tools to help me process my feelings. I love them and so do those who use them. They’re just so helpful. . If you’d like to see them, you’ll find them HERE.

26 comments on “What do you say to someone about their loss
  1. I still can’t believe it. Many friends from my blog writing challenge group asked if I’ll write about her. I haven’t been able to. I’ve given myself this month, but the first week of May I’ll do a post, followed by our blog challenge group writing posts using the prompts she had sent in. But, like you, I’ll feel this void forever.

  2. Sharing the relationship you had with Rena helps me, Carol. I knew her only from a business perspective and your love and caring for her was deeply profound, in a way I never understood before. In a way I now understand through your writings. Thank you. Grief is complicated and takes time. The grief I have felt the past two and a half years since Alan died has morphed into many things I can’t always label or share. After coming so very close to death myself in January, I am experiencing grief in a different way. Grieving for what will come and grieving for my family. It’s personal and quiet, even though like you, I write about it in my head daily. It’s an inward and sometimes laborious process and maybe not so uniquely mine. Sometimes I isolate, sometimes not. But here we are…doing the best we can, with love. Always.

  3. Alana says:

    At our ages, we’ve all lost friends. We know we will lose more friends if we continue to live on Earth. If we live long enough we will lose all our friends, but the ones who die young are the ones that deliver a gut punch, especially if it was unexpected. I sometimes wonder how my husband’s aunt, who lived to 107, made her peace with the realities of aging.

    • My bestie is 93. I’m going to ask her about that but I suspect her answer will be a practical one. “I just live, what can I do? I have outlived so many of my friends. I just live.” We’ll see if that’s what she says.

  4. Nancy Hill says:

    I didn’t know Rena. Not like you real friends of hers did, but I admired her, I read her words over the years, when I was caring for a 92 year old parent who could not speak much and was a tiny bit confused about a few things. Then I saw her build her tech business. Such a smart woman. I knew about her being ill, but her death shocked me. I’ve lost so many people, all my family of birth, my best friend, but I consider myself fortunate in that I’ve been able to help a few women figure out how to best tell their stories. I have not done as much as I should have to fulfill what my favorite brother asked me to do the last time I saw him when he was dying of cancer. He told me to keep protesting and work on getting good healthcare for all. I lost a friend who was only in her early 50s, when she should have been able to get help. These experiences come back to haunt me when there are senseless deaths. I wrote this skipping around all the things I did not know about Rena, but something I felt in my gut: https://womenslegacyproject.com/a-to-z/too-many-things-to-think-about/ as the first A to Z post this April.

    • Oh, I so remember those years she took care of her mom during her Alzheimers…and became expert in all things caregivers need to know. Yes, her death shocked us. I appreciate your sharing that post, Nancy.Like you, I feel there is way too much to think about today and none of it good.

  5. Diane says:

    I miss Rena. I will always miss Rena. But I feel her presence–particularly when I write something I know she would have liked. I can hear her “Nice one, Diane!” as though she was standing beside me!

  6. Mona Andrei says:

    Loss is such a hard thing to… It comes with so many silent actions… to accept… to grieve… to ponder… to question… And to your point, it’s the nature of life. Yet it’s still hard.

    Thank you for writing this. Thank you for honoring Rena.

  7. Rita says:

    At the beginning of the year, I had three friends on hospice care. They have all died now. It’s really hard. Another friend died suddenly in December. Now, yesterday, I learned that a man I really admired, my daughter-in-law’s cousin, died unexpectedly of a blood clot. He had had a couple of surgeries for a brain tumor and had to stop a trial he was in.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Carol, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know Rena, although, across the years, I’ve heard her name.

  9. Laurie Stone says:

    I spoke to Rena once on the phone and was fascinated by her wonderful Kentucky twang, such a contrast to the New York accents around me in Connecticut. She was a lovely woman and a great help. We’ll miss her dearly. So sorry for your loss.

  10. Beth Havey says:

    Rena was a spark in a dull sky. Her laugh was amazing and so was her cheerful…I’ll take care of it. And she did. So many times, I had to call with a question and she was always there. NOW SHE IS NOT. It’s a loss, one I am dealing with. Rena, you light up the place wherever you go. Peace, Woman, peace.

  11. Beth Havey says:

    I was writing about Rena, and the phone rang. Ah life. It can change things so quickly. And Rena, you left us so quickly, you the helper in my day with your bright laugh and your assurance that “No problem.” Because Rena was always there for me. A true friend and damn good at what she did. And just as daily life can interrupt our thoughts, her death has left a hole in my life. Oh, Rena, you were such a wonderful friend, your reassurance, your kindness. You cared for your mother until the end. You were the grandmother of laughter and camping and just having fun. So many will miss you. I miss you. WHAT A WOMAN! WHAT A FRIEND! Rena, are there bloggers in Heaven? They might need your help.

  12. I was in shock when I heard about it. Her sudden death was so sad. I always enjoyed her posts. I

  13. I had a dear friend die unexpectedly in January. His wife called me, and in shock, I asked, “Christopher, your husband?” when she told me what had happened.

    Chris and I grew up as great friends because our moms had grown up together in my hometown. We would go visit them every summer and travel to meet up with them on a beach somewhere. Chris brought his wife here to go to vet school 30 years ago. In that time, my husband and I did so much with them as a couple. We brought up all of our sons together, and we continued the tradition of traveling together.

    He’d always been there -better than a brother almost because we never fought like siblings do at times. I am still best friends with his widow, but that solid, lifelong friendship that has disappeared has left such a hole in my heart.

    • Yes, I can feel the void you describe so well. I am sorry for your loss. As we age, life presents us with those voids (or rather, death does) –we have no choice, no control over death. The only thing to do is feel our way through. My love and support are with you,Melanie.

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