It happens. Seeking solace, you call a trusted friend or loved one and share some sadness; a family member’s diagnosis or a colleague’s death. But instead of consolation, you’re told a story of greater loss, even more disturbing than the one you’ve shared.  You’d hoped for comfort but the conversation leaves you frustrated and feeling worse. And you question why you bothered to make the call.


Why do some people one up us when we share sad news? I wondered and so I asked. One individual told me that it helped her put her personal losses in perspective. When she thought about people who had a loss worse than hers, it made her feel better.


Well, it doesn’t work that way for me and I suspect it doesn’t work that way for many people. If a loved one has been diagnosed with a difficult form of cancer, in that same conversation, do you want to learn that someone knows of someone that died from the same cancer? Will that really make you feel better? If you’re shaken because a dear friend was in a terrible accident, does it make you feel better to know that there were other accidents with worse outcomes?


There will always be sadder stories and more dreadful news. But that shouldn’t minimize or take away from the losses we each encounter. Everyone has the right to feel sad, shaken, or bereaved. And when we express our feelings, they should be validated, not minimized.


When you’re in a conversation and someone minimizes your loss, what do you say? What do you do? Are you supposed to become the comforter? Or are you just plain shocked into silence?


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle StoreClick here to order.


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Comment by amaryllis on January 31, 2011 at 12:11pm

I couldn't agree more! Visiting this LegacyConnect site,  reading a comment written by someone who have recently  lost a loved one  and it is asking for help.  Most part of  time it is possible to read  replies filled  with a detailed story of a loss, etc. etc.  so the person who is crying does not get the expected  consolation, neither a warm and big hug and prayers. I admire who is able to write on a subject  so  delicate and so important like this. 

I will visit your Blog from now on.


Comment by Sensitive One on January 30, 2011 at 9:46am

I've read a lot of posts from those who become upset with what people  say to those who are grieving, such as "he/she is in a better place", he/she is in no more pain", "life will move on", and etc.  The people who say these things are not looking to cause pain, but to comfort in the only way they know how.  It's difficult to know what to say sometimes, but because people take the time to come out and be there, means they care.  Do not worry about the words, but remember what is being said comes with a genuine spirit of support. 


I've heard those who would like to visit grieving families state that they do not want to say the wrong thing and subsequently shy away and send a physical condolence such as a plant, card, or food; but I would rather have a person's presence and awkward well intentioned words than to be alone during a rough time.  Alone time will come soon enough; just enjoy the present company. 


 When visiting a grieving family, I generally say something like "I'm sorry for your loss"  or "my thoughts and prayers are with you" and go on to share a good memory or story if the setting is right for conversation. The grief stricken family can then feel a real connection to the relationship (whether personal or work related)  I shared with the person who died.   My point is to accept the well intentioned words and visits of those who take time to visit grieving families because 99.9% of the time, these are sincere gestures.  Be Blessed.

Comment by Terri Carter on January 26, 2011 at 5:34pm

Wow, I have just begun to read what is written here - and so much of it echoes what I long to say.  Some of it is different, and I have the same open heart to that pain.  And some of it - wow, I was feeling so badly for thinking some things.  


I appreciate everyone who reaches out to me.  But, yes, I don't want to hear, "At least he's not in pain."  My husband did not want to die, he fought and wanted to continue to fight through his pain just for what he expressed was his "quality of life" - to hold my hand.  We did our best to make certain he was in as little pain as possible as the cancer he fought for nearly 10 years made it certain it was now going to end his life, but he went out fighting it with courage and dignity and love - with me by his side every step of the way.  And when he passed his last, sweet breath in my arms, I know he as at peace, just as I know I felt him pass into me with his spirit, and there his love stays with me and I am entrusted to somehow walk as he would have me walk and keep alive the legacy that is him.  But no, we are not feeling any relief that he is out of pain - he wanted to live!


Also, life is just getting "back to normal" - and I appreciate what was written - now is when I need help more than right after my husband's passing.  What I needed then was more time to process.  I still need that.  But now is when I am just beginning to need friends and support.  And navigation of the legalities and financial concerns - oh, wow!  


Anyway, thanks for being here, everyone, and for allowing me to vent.  I needed to do that.


And I do so appreciate - even through my grief - all that everyone does.  And I wish I could do more to lessen their grief as they mourn the friendships they had with my husband.


My true concern and condolences to all you here with all the personal suffering you each are going through.  I hope I will come to a place where I can be of more comfort to all of you.  But I send our love.

Comment by River of Tears on January 26, 2011 at 5:58am
In depth of what I only feel is like a nightmare that I can not wake up from yet the blatant knowlege of  reality that my loving and dear Sister is no longer here . A few month have passed which I dont  know where they went , knowing now that the days and weeks that followed I must have shut down and was just numb. Though some how even then comments and actions of others still replay in my head .  Those few who where generous of heart and then those who as stated and with some just did not know the depth of what I must of been feeling or may not have the compacity to .  Those some comments are ones that seem to have become apart of the fibers of what all of this pain is .   In my guilt of this all I ask even in this why should someone know how I was feeling about this all . Especially those who did not know my Sister , yet some how wanted or felt at the time they needed to share what was on there mind .  Now it is weeks after , and wanting to understand more of where they may have been coming from I thought it to be a good idea to talk to them .  Well,  maybe it was not such a good idea now that I am thinking of what they added to the comments alreadly said .  I guess I was walking in with hopes that in trying to make sense to all of this that at least giving those around me to be able to explain more what I may have not been able to understand then .   It may be that there are those that are able to discuss such things and are able to be open to why and how you may have felt hurt , yet then there are those who may become defensive and as I learned will come back with even more . Telling me that I am a sinner as my sister was too if not saved whch for me is so true , for her no if only he was fortunate to have met her and really see what good in the world was .  For me absolutely , if only I would have  done more for her she may still be here .  Ones pain does not go away just because others around want it too and tell you all the in only's that may exits . Believe I go over in my mind of what and I could have said and done so other would not have made the choice to releave their discomfort of seeing my sister sick anymore .  That guilt is mine . 
Comment by kim kelso on January 22, 2011 at 1:15am
I just found this site, and don't need to give details now,....but one thing I have to say,....when I say I feel guilty about my relief that this is over, circle all say, don't feel guilty,...she is no longer in pain, her suffering is over.  But my relief isn't about that,'s that now I can go on with my normal routine,....but I can't go back to my routine. My guilt is about MY RELIEF, not her's. It kills me that the one person I would speak to about these conflicting feelings, the one I no longer have.
Comment by Michael Black on January 21, 2011 at 11:15am

It seems that after most have returned to their daily routines THATS when emotional support is needed the most!  Friends and family are there for you in the beginning, but then their lives go back to normal. Your life, however, doesn’t.  Being conscious of that reality, true friends go out of their way to  make themselves available and provide ONGOING support.   I especially appreciated what "Vicky Voelker Johnson" stated.  It is so true, GOD is NOT responsible and does not TAKE persons to be with him.  Ive been so comforted by two bible text in Job.  Job 34:23 says " For he sets no appointed time for any man to go to him in judgement."  I was floored to know that GOD does not determine a persons time of death.  Rather, in speaking about the hope of a resurrection (literal Greek word meaning "standing up") from the dead, the faithful man Job says to GOD " You will call, and I myself shall answer you.  For the work of your hands you will have a YEARNING."  It has brought me so much comfort  to know that GOD is eager or YEARNS to restore our dead loved ones to life so that we can enjoy their precious company again!

Comment by Mimi Silva on January 20, 2011 at 9:32pm
My dad passed away in March 2009 and eventhough I am an adult, I still feel very sad about the loss. My feelings are still at the surface,still very raw. This may be due to the fact I did not have an opportunity to grieve as I was worried about my elderly mother. However, I know realize my fathers loss, for her does not have the same meaning as it does for me. In fact, very shortly after she has moved on and is already involved with another person. In addition, when I express grief over the loss of my father, my mother becomes angry. I know I need to move on, however, I find it difficult because the one person who I am looking too for guidance and understanding, my mother, her actions and tone are one of anger and very confusing.
Comment by vicki Voelker Johnson on January 18, 2011 at 1:46pm
I agree with all you have said. I hate when people tell me oh my son is not in pain or this is god will. or he is free. well damm it i want him home .no it was not god who gave him cancer. and he had freedom here with his family and friends. at frist i said nothing but i do now. I want to talk of him he is my son.
Comment by Lynzee on January 17, 2011 at 8:48pm
I have come to realize that most people just don't know what to say, so they often say the "wrong" thing..... and minimizing grief is  certainly a wrong thing! 
Comment by Crimson B. on January 17, 2011 at 4:30pm

Thank you for this article. I have had a few people tell me that the death of my loved one was a positive. I don't think they have a right to tell me that. I know it is that they really just don't know what to say. Thanks again.


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