Posted by: Kathy | January 10, 2012

What Do You Say?

A lot of times when I look at the search terms that brought visitors to my blog site I see “words of comfort” or “what to say when someone dies” or “words of condolence.” What to say to someone who has lost a loved one is often confusing and it can be difficult to find the right words. Even though I’ve lost someone very close to me and can probably relate to what that person is feeling, I still find myself at a loss for words. Everyone’s experiences are different and I have no idea what someone is actually feeling unless they tell me. I have always found that it is much easier for me to put my thoughts on paper or computer screen than to say them out loud. Oftentimes when I talk about something close to my heart, my words come out jumbled and sounding wrong to me. But when I write, I can play around with the words until they say exactly what I want to express.

When my mom died, people said to me “she’s in a better place now.” That may be the case but my mom isn’t here with me anyone and there’s a gaping hole in my life that nothing will fill. Or someone would tell me that she’s no longer in pain. This is true, but it doesn’t take away my painful memories of watching my mom die a cruel death, and there was absolutely no way to explain how or why my mom got pancreatic cancer. Why my mom? She had so much she wanted to live for.

Please don’t get me wrong, I know that everyone who offered me words of condolence after my mom’s death, whatever they were, did so with kindness and love. I know that many of these people were hurting just as much as I was because they too loved my mom and felt her loss from their lives. I was filled with grief, anger, emptiness, and so many regrets, and nothing I did took away these feelings for a very long time. I was truly lost.

Time did lessen my pain and “heal” my wounds. But I still miss my mom. Even after 3 years, there is still a hole in my life that I can’t fill and an empty place at the table where my mom should be. I think of her every day and wish she was still a part of our lives. She belongs with her family. My mom wanted to be a part of her grandkids’ lives as they grew up. She held on to the hope that one day she would dance with her grandson at his wedding. I still need my mom and there are times when I long to pick up the phone and hear her voice. I have accepted my mom’s death, but I don’t think I will ever truly get over it. There is a part of my heart that still feels the anger, emptiness, and pain that became part of my life after my mom died.

So what do you say to someone who has lost a loved one? Honestly, I don’t think there are any right words to say when someone dies. Things are different for everyone, and often they are numb with shock and grief. Hearing the words “I’m sorry for your loss” or “let me know if there is anything I can do” or “I’m here for you” brought me some comfort. People warmed my heart when they spoke from theirs and talked about a time they shared with my mom or a special memory of her. It is very important to me that my mom is not forgotten. I can never forget her or how deeply she touched my life, as well as the lives of those around her. I love you, Mom, and I will always keep your memory alive.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” ~ Thomas Campbell



  1. Hi Rob:

    I’m so sorry about your son’s mom and can understand what he is going through. I was 38 when my mom was diagnosed with unresectable pancreatic cancer. For me, shock and disbelief turned to fear and sadness. The real anger didn’t come until after my mom died. I threw myself into work as a distraction and spent as much time with my mom as I could. I had so many regrets when my mom died that it nearly crippled me. I would never want to see your son go through what I did.

    I am no expert on this topic, but I can tell you what helped me (and know what I did wrong). Your son should keep talking throughout this time – talk to you, his friends, family, wife, and pastor. Talk to his mom especially. There is a blogroll on my blog homepage that contains other blogs that may be helpful. The Lustgarten Foundation and PanCan may have online support groups. For me, the biggest support came from people who had lost parents and understood what I was going through when my mom was sick and then from my pastor after my mom died. The one thing I did “wrong” was that I didn’t really open up to anyone about my true feelings until almost a year after my mom died. I felt I needed to be strong for everyone at a time when I was dying inside. I didn’t talk even though the devastation in my eyes was obvious. Talk openly. Make sure your son is really talking about his feelings, either with you, his mom, or someone else. But there may also be times when he doesn’t want to talk and that’s ok too.

    I’m sure this is difficult for you as well. Keep an open line of communication with your son. My dad and I became a lot closer during my mom’s illness and after her death. We were there for each other and talked every night, and still do.

    I wish I could provide more help, and I hope some of what I wrote is helpful. Please know that I understand what your son is going through. He can email me if he wants to talk ( This is a very difficult time for your family and, unfortunately, it will only get harder. I wish you, your son, and his mom the best. Please feel free to contact me if you think I can help or if your son wants to talk to someone who’s been through what he’s dealing with. Take care, ~ Kathy

  2. Yesterday evening, I learned from my son, that his mom, my former wife and still great friend of over twenty years, was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma).
    ‘Devastation’ would be a gross undercharacterization of what he is feeling and going through right now. To make matters worse, at 36, his long-awaited marriage is only six weeks away. In the kindest of terms, for years his mom ‘bugged’ him about getting married, and of course, having children. To me, and I sensed this immediately, he is not only reeling, but he is angry, very angry. Angry to the point where he described his imminent departure on his honeymoon as something that (now) had to be done. While I was mostly away since his early years, working and living overseas, and despite visits and being in continuous contact – naturally his mom was and remains THE CENTER of his formative and adult life.

    I sincerely believe he is going to require more help than his new bride, family, friends and church can provide. Any information anyone has to offer in this vein would be gratefully appreciated.

  3. I’m glad that my words could bring you some comfort and that you could relate to what I wrote. When I re-read my post for my husband, it surprised just how strongly I still felt about my mom’s illness and death. I can’t describe in words just how much I miss her. Thanks for leaving me a comment. ~Kathy

  4. This is one of those posts I can relate to, and I thank you for it. You always make me somehow feel a bit better and give me something to think about, help me to understand it all a bit more. Thanks again!

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