Grief Support
Comforting Someone
Wbat Happened?
Letter to Loved Ones
Authors International Work
Author's International Work
Author's International Work

Comforting Someone

The free-verse stories in Grief: Climb Toward Understanding have been comforting to thousands of individuals. Like the variables in the experience of grief, what comforts one person is often different than what comforts another. BE SURE TO READ THE LETTERS at the bottom of this page.

In addition to the story of healing in the book, there are nearly 100 pages of ideas and helps to guide you in being more helpful and to inspire you to be more observant. "Two Long Walks" beginning on page 206 will also give you more ideas.

Two samples follow from:
What Can Be Done To Help? (page 277) and
A Letter, Helping Co-workers (page 282). Both are portions of chapters in the Resource Section of Grief: Climb Toward Understanding.

What Can Be Done To Help? excerpted from page 277.

You may want to:

    Go immediately to show your concern and LISTEN with your ears, eyes and heart (actions speak loudly).

    Consider taking a copy of this book to the family to guide them in the decisions they will need to consider. Having the organized information and checklists to work from during this confusing time relieves an enormous amount of stress. It also allows the family to stay in control of the decision-making process instead of the funeral director. Mark page 229.

    Always refer to the deceased by name.

    Do what you can to be sure those surviving eat regularly and are taking vitamins (they are likely experiencing significant stress).

    Take toilet paper, stress vitamins and tissues to the house (all are used much faster than normal). Quietly leave them with an attached note: "Just in case you use these as fast as we do when there's a group around."

    Take food, in reusable or disposable containers — or be sure your name and phone number are on the bottom side of the dish. (Remember, there is special thoughtfulness in a note taped to the bottom of a plate that needs to be returned to you: "I will drop by in a few days for a visit. Just save this dish for me.") Then stop over for a visit in a few days after everyone has left; you will be most appreciated.

    Go to services and after-service events. (This is far more important than many people realize.)

    Make a donation to the suggested charity or one of your own preference. (The charity will send the family an acknowledgment of the gift.)

    Whenever you are with family members, mention a fond experience or recollection you have of the deceased (USE the deceased person's name). Then invite the person you are listening to, in a gentle way, to share a favorite memory. This thoughtfulness can be incredibly helpful throughout the grief process and for years to come.

    Organize a support network for food, "a night out" or "visitors" to help survivors over the coming months.

    Mark the deceased's birthday, wedding and death anniversary dates on your calendar and send a memorial donation or a card in subsequent years to family members on those dates. This is a deeply appreciated and thoughtful gesture.

    If you are concerned with what not to say, consider avoiding giving advice on either how the family should grieve or on why such tragedies occur. The family will appreciate knowing about your feelings, not what you think.

    Write out the story of your favorite memories of the deceased and give it to the family. This is good for you and a precious gift to them.

Note: There are nearly 100 more pages of helpful information and suggestions in the resource section in Grief: Climb Toward Understanding. Some of the same assistance is found in Phyllis's other books.

Helping Co-workers, Church, Synagogue, Mosque or organization members
(This letter holds wise suggestions for everyone)

... excerpted from page 282 in Grief: Climb Toward Understanding.

This is a letter sent by previously bereaved individuals to associates of a newly bereaved faculty and staff member at California Polytechnic State University. It has been included to possibly serve as a model for other businesses or institutions. The [ ] indicates that a name, date or pronoun change will help you personalize this letter.

To our colleagues:
[Jane and Joe __________'s ][daughter] [Anne] died on [Wednesday] [date].

What you say to [Joe] in the next days, weeks, and months will make a difference. We who have also lost our children would like to offer a few suggestions about what you might say and do, because most people aren't quite sure what to say at times like this.

The loss of a loved one, especially a child, is one of the most devastating events that can happen to a person. It is quite different from other, more expected, deaths such as parents or grandparents. When someone suffers the intense grief of a child's death, you will naturally want to avoid doing or saying "the wrong thing."But please don't let your cautiousness lead to doing or saying nothing at all!

Seek out your colleague. Avoiding [Joe] will cause more pain to someone already deeply anguished. In the hall, passing the office, at the supermarket: talk to [him]. Don't pretend that nothing has happened. Don't avoid [him]. Be sure to acknowledge both [Joe] and the loss of [his] child, [Anne].

If you don't know what to say, simply say "I'm sorry." The words are not important, but convey a sense that you know and care.

Mention [Anne's] name. In fact, look for reasons to say [her] name — now, a month from now, a year, even ten years from now. [Joe] will want to know that others remember and care that [his] [daughter] [Anne] is no longer alive. [Joe] may want to talk about [his] [daughter]; talking is one of the ways of keeping the memory of [his] child alive. Your silence may convince [Joe] that you do not want [him] to mention [Anne's] name. Your words (and especially your ears) can be a precious gift to him in keeping [his] [daughter's] memory alive.

Welcome tears — yours and the family's. Your tears are appropriate and appreciated. They speak your concern with silent and deeply felt eloquence. Many men fear their tears, but the parent seeing tears will receive them as a gift. Also, [Joe] needs to cry sometimes alone, sometimes with others. If your words cause tears, you bring comfort rather than distress. Don't expect this to sound logical; logic is irrelevant at times like this. [Joe] will want to cry at times, and the tears will feel good. Don't deny [him] that gift.

Don't be afraid to intrude. Most of us are hesitant to go where we fear we might not be welcome — home or office. Stop by the house. Be helpful. There may not be much you can say, but there is much you can do. Errands need to be run, food arranged, people contacted, and maybe even the lawn mowed. [Joe and Jane] will not be in a frame of mind to ask your help. Just try to figure out what might need doing, then either do it or talk it over with someone who seems on top of things right then.

Avoid saying "I know how you feel." You don't. You can't. Even those of us who have gone through similar tragedies can't know what this death feels like to another person. It is often helpful to share briefly what's happened to you; just don't assume it will apply to your colleague. Your greatest gift is to LISTEN.

Don't provide a "silver lining." It won't help to try to "put things in perspective" for your colleague. Yes, it could be worse: more people could have died or dying quickly might be better than dying slowly. But "it-could-have-been-worse" will not be received as a condolence. Nor will pushing your religious views help. Hearing that it's "God's will" seldom comforts. If you are concerned with what not to say, consider avoiding giving advice on either how the family should grieve or on why such tragedies occur. The family will want to know what you FEEL, NOT what you THINK.

Be there. Your willingness to listen can be a profound expression of friendship. Encourage [Joe] to talk about details of [his] [daughter] [Anne's] life. It's part of the healing. Don't try to protect your colleague, but be sensitive and simply accept what [he] feels or needs at that point. [He] would probably prefer to tell you what is off limits or uncomfortable than feel denied the chance to talk about what lies so heavily on his heart.

Those who grieve are shaken by powerful feelings. They need to know that those near them still care.

Remember [Jane], [his wife]. [She] has an unusual and difficult burden right now.

Finally, call any of us if you have questions. We want to help,

Joyce and Ken

Note: A special thank you to Joyce, Ken, and John (as we remember Laura and Maurie) for the help they have given to other bereaved parents and for their allowing the use of this letter in Grief: Climb Toward Understanding.


The following are portions of two letters received by the author in one week and used here with permission:

Right now your book is a life-line for me. Thank you for making me feel a little less alone after the sudden and unexpected death of our son Zachary. How could it be? How could all MY feelings be on the pages of Grief: Climb Toward Understanding ? Those were MY feelings, MY emotions and they were so deep in MY soul.

How could you know?
Evelyn Clark


"Last spring when my husband was going to have surgery, Mrs. Davies,

your unusual and wonderful book called to me with its beautiful cover. I enjoyed reading your vignette story and by the time Bill was in the recovery room, I had explored the amazing and helpful 100-page resource section.

"As he awakened from the anesthetic, I quietly read some of your healing words, especially "My Stream," and others in the chapters Perspective and Refocus, thinking they might help him shift his attitude about the changes in life he was facing.

"Later when he was fully awake, I began reading to him the adventure you relate of your adjustment to loss and the reframing process you share in those powerful short pieces of wisdom. Even in pain, Derek and your story held Bill's attention.

"In those first days we reread his favorite sections and talked. He decided living each day as fully as possible was more important than how long one lives. Living with awareness and being loving to those around him began to bring Bill the joy and peacefulness he had searched for and missed in so many ways, much of his life.

"As we watched death come far more quickly than we had expected, I began to really get familiar with the 'To Do' sections. Bill went over all the questions in Important Information (to give and get NOW), Life-Support Systems Instructions, A Letter to My Physician. I checked the internet site and found "My letter to Family and Friends." I hope you'll include it in future editions of your book. He used the idea. Bill enjoyed sharing, and I wrote his words. **

"His life memories in that letter are his last loving gift to me and our children.

"Your book has been a very important tool in my life. But even more important, I believe your precious story gave Bill the life he had missed in all his years of living.

       "With my deepest appreciation,"

** "I do hope you'll include "My letter to Family and Friends' in future editions of your book."

We are following Jan's suggestion and you will find the letter she requested 'My letter to Family and Friends' on this site


We welcome your suggestions, also.
Please write us at

or at
P.O. Box 945
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406

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