What To Say, When You Don’t Know What To Say

I’ve been beating around the bush with the reality of grief for some time now. I guess I needed to give whoever reads this an introduction to the most dramatic season of my life before I jumped right in. Also, I feel more comfortable openly sharing my feelings. So many others have bravely done so before me, and have led me through the dark tunnels.

If you’re new here – my one and only daughter, Renée, passed away at 8 1/2 months old, all of which (minus 3 days) were spent in the hospital. You can read more about her story here.

The Day The World Stops Turning

The moment is engrained in my mind forever. For some people, its a phone call, a knock on the door, a frantic 911 call cascading into a traumatic turn of events, or a peaceful bedside moment. For me, it’s hearing the doctor call “time of death 3:58 pm.”

My world stopped, and my heart crushed into a million pieces. It wasn’t real. I was in shock. Renée was still in front of me, she wasn’t gone, she was still here – I was looking right at her.

Then it hit like a ton of bricks. I came home for the first time in 8 days. Everything was exactly how I left it. Clothes in the hamper, and diapers in the bin. All of her medical equipment was completely gone – not even a single syringe left in sight when it had overwhelmingly filed my house just one week prior. To this day, Renée’s room is exactly how it was left 11 months ago when she was last in it.

I excitedly pushed through the funeral, because that is where most people met Renée for the first and only time. Everyone told me I was so strong, when I had no choice or no clue what was about to ensue.

What Comes Next?

After the adrenaline rush, came a huge crash. Going from the bed to the sofa every day for days on end. Just numb, in complete shock. Brushing my teeth was the hardest task of the day. There were times I went outside in the freezing cold or in the rain just to feel something. To feel the wetness on my skin to know I was still alive, and this in fact was my world.

I was so angry, I was mean to everyone. I was so physically sick I couldn’t depend on myself, but I didn’t want to depend on anyone else. At the time, I was literally in heart failure, not knowing my health was about to take a turn for the worst. These were some of the darkest moments of my life by far.

Unfortunately it is true, grief becomes incredibly harder the more time passes. You can’t wish it away. It isn’t going anywhere. One moment I am happy and distracted, then 30 minutes later an extreme nausea comes over me that this is my life. My child was here, and now she is gone. There were times I cried the whole way home from outings, and times I couldn’t wait for everyone to get out of my house so I could just cry in Renée’s room.

Some days it just doesn’t feel real. It is a dream, and what a dream it was. I still have flashbacks, good and bad. Driving the same roads, and visiting the same places bring back all of the memories. Everywhere and everything is a constant reminder of what once was and what will never be.

This is just a glimpse of what grief is like for me. I may go into more detail one day, but I think this is enough to swallow for now. I wanted to share this so other people may relate, get a sense of what grief can mean for different people, and learn how they can help someone who is hurting.

What Can You Do?

Bring Food – Don’t Ask, Just Bring Anything

One of the best things my family arranged was a meal train. We had an ice chest outside of our door, and people just showed up and dropped off food. Others gave us a slew of Uber Eats and Grub Hub gift cards. The last thing I wanted to do was eat, or even think about eating. It was helpful, and healthy to have food already available.

Don’t Expect Decisions To Be Made

Literally everything is overwhelming. I mean it, EVERY. LITTLE. THING. My brain was mush I couldn’t make any decisions. I certainly couldn’t focus on anything long enough to make a reasonable decision.

Don’t Be Offended By Unanswered Calls or Texts

I appreciated the text messages and phone calls. I appreciated that people cared enough to stop what they were doing in their busy day to think about me. But honestly, I just couldn’t answer a how are you doing or do you need anything? If I left your messaged unanswered for days, don’t take it personally. I just couldn’t even create a sentence to answer.

Don’t Grieve To Them

I shared my daughter’s life with the world – everyone knew Renée, even if they didn’t know me. I would unfortunately have to go to appointment after appointment with people constantly asking me, “how’s your daughter?” And over and again I would answer with “she passed away.” This went on for months after she died. It was always the same scenario, someone crying in front of me. I felt like I had to comfort them, when I was barely keeping myself together.

The hardest thing to do is feel like you have to comfort someone else for your loss. When people grieved to me, I felt like I had to be strong for them and help them through a loss that shook me to the core.

Don’t Tell Them How To Grieve

Unless you notice unhealthy behaviors. Everyone grieves differently. People may be reading this now, and think I’m crazy or insensitive. My husband and I grieve differently, and we experienced the same traumatic loss.

I don’t cry a lot, and for a long time I had a hard time figuring out what grief meant to me. I felt so guilty, as if I couldn’t even grieve the right way. All I knew was moms just crying nonstop and not being able to leave the house. Here I was and I couldn’t even shed a tear on demand when Renée’s name came up. I beat myself up over this, and didn’t know “what was wrong with me.”

I’d soon come to learn that I was solely surviving. My body and mind had pushed through the most exhausting and exhilarating year, and was still trying to grasp what in the hell just happened. To this day, I still don’t think I have been able to fully grasp the magnitude of my loss.

Know That They Are Always Grieving

Always, it never ends. I’m not used to not getting better. I push my limits and do what I have to do to get better. Realizing that this will never get better was one of the most difficult realizations I had to come to terms with.

My body knows before my heart does. Thanksgiving was our first major holiday without Renée. I love Thanksgiving, I didn’t have one ounce of uncertainty that it wouldn’t be just like any other day. Honestly, I can’t put into words the anger, anxiety, and aggression that took over me that day. I couldn’t control it, I couldn’t bottle it up no matter how hard I tried.

It just sucks. It is everywhere, always. One simple scroll on Facebook, a scene in a movie, or a song lyric can turn into days of depression. The hurt never goes away. In fact, it only gets worse as time goes on.


Don’t try to relate or offer feedback, JUST LISTEN. I know everyone wanted to help me, but really there is nothing to say. For me it took a lot to open up, and I had everything bottled up. That is when I really turned to writing. I had to let out my frustrations and sadness somehow.

I didn’t want to talk to my husband about it, because I didn’t want to make him sad. Some things I just didn’t feel comfortable saying to others, because I didn’t want hear the feedback I knew was coming or it was simply just too difficult. I just needed an outlet without repercussions.

Don’t Set Any Expectations

This one also went along with my grieving guilt. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be smiling, or attempting to start my life over again. Don’t judge them if they are trying so hard to replace the irreplaceable joy they once had, don’t expect them to “move on” in a certain time frame, and definitely don’t set any timelines.

Their Feelings are REAL and VALID

Don’t minimize them. No amount of “at least she is in heaven” or “at least she isn’t suffering” can cure any ounce of pain I feel.

Be present, without being present.

I wanted to be left alone, but I didn’t want to feel lonely. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to anyone or be bothered, but I also didn’t want to feel so alone in my sadness. I didn’t want to feel like I had to entertain anyone either. I’m sure that wouldn’t have been the case, but that is what it felt like for me.

Do What Feels Right In Your Heart

Now these are my experiences and opinions. Everyone grieves differently and I think that is something that MUST be acknowledged. For me personally, I want Renée remembered. I want people to talk about her. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable or sad. Those memories and those words are all I have to hold on to, forever.

So, to answer my question – What to say when you don’t know what to say? Always say their loved one’s name, share what you love about them, and then say nothing.

“A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well intentioned words” – Rachel Naomi Remen

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