Friday, April 15, 2011

What Should I Say? (Responding in the midst of grief)

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Dear Friends ~

If you live in the West Michigan area, you've heard of the local tragedy that claimed the lives of Derek Taatjes, a youth pastor, and his infant son Dylan.

Derek, age 31 and Dylan were killed in a fire in their home last evening, while his wife and two daughters were visiting family in Florida. Our whole community is in shock and mourning this painful loss.

Whereas I don't know the Taatjes family personally, I have been praying for Derek's wife and family all day. Unfortunately I remember all too well the day I received a call that my "soon-to-be" husband David, also age 31, had been unexpectedly killed in a tragic accident.

I can still vividly remember heading to the visitation, in the midst of intense grief, getting ready to stand before David's casket to greet friends and family. I asked my friend Betty, "What in the world am I going to say to everyone?"

Betty said, "Cindy, you don't have to worry. Right now everyone is wondering what they are going to say to you."

Somehow I made it through the vistation and funeral, and now, having journeyed through "the valley of grief" ~ I've learned a little bit about what is helpful to say/do in the midst of a loss.

Here are some of my ideas...

Things to Say~

* I am so sorry for your loss. (this is my all-time favorite)

* Please tell me how I can help. I want to be here for you.

* May I give you a hug?

* Please tell me what you are feeling right now ~I have never been through something like this.

*_______ was such a great________. I will really miss him/her.

*It's ok if you do not feel like talking right now. Just know that I am here to listen whenever you are ready.

Things NOT to Say~

*"I know how you feel." (This would make me want to scream, “YOU don’t know how I feel, no one knows how bad I feel!)”

*“Time heals all wounds.” (Not true, not true!)

*“You’ll be ok. God knows what He is doing” (Whereas it is true God does know what He is doing, these words are not often helpful to someone grieving a loss.)

*"Just call me if there is anything I can do." (Trust me, in the midst of grief, you can’t think straight and you have no idea what you need.)

My best advice for helping....fill the home with Kleenexes, food (although those grieving probably won't want to eat it, so simple, healthy options are best), and be available and ready for anything. Look through picture albums. Come over in the morning with hot coffee.

One friend would come over every Thursday night and watch ER with me. Her presence, listening ear and patience was invaluable. Be there.

Also, the next year following a loss is extremely painful. If you know someone who is grieving a loss, mark your calendar with their name on the major holidays, and be sure to "check in" on the first Easter, Fathers Day, Christmas, etc.. Keep them in your prayers.

Lastly, although everyone is different, my encouragement would be to not be afraid to bring up the deceased person's name. I still wanted to talk about David in the weeks and months to come, but I could sense others didn't want to "upset me". I've found many times this is the case when a death takes place.

I know this post is a little "heavy" for the weekend (sorry!) ~ but I would love to hear from you. Have your journeyed with someone through grief? Been through the grief process yourself? What was helpful/not helpful for you??

Let's learn from one another, so we might be a source of joy, comfort and hope during difficult times.

Most importantly, would you please pray for the Taatje Family? Derek and Dylan leave behind a wife/mom and two young daughters/sisters. May they sense God's comfort and peace each and every moment during the hours, days, weeks and years to come.

He (God) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 MSG

In His Great Love,


Leah @ Point Ministries said...


this is a wonderfully practical post. I cannot imagine how devastated you were. God bless you for ministering out of your grief. Praying blessings over this precious family.

Kendal said...

Oh. just oh. because i've suffered a tragic loss as well, i have been able to help my students with what to say and what not to say to kids who come to school after a friend or parent died. I have middle schoolers and they always want to know the details of the death so I have to tell them not to ask questions about how it happened. I tell them that the bereaved will talk when he/she is ready. Praying for this sweet young mom and daughter.

Erica said...

This is so helpful! Thanks so much! Praying for that sweet family

Ginger said...

Cindy, we so often do not know what to say - this is not only helpful, but loving - to both the grieving and those of us who wish to comfort. Thank you so much for this gift of love to us all.

Keena said...

Cindy, I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy. It is hard to know exactly what to say during those times of grief because everyone deals with it so differently. My husband lost his 4yr old daughter the year before I met him. He still goes through moments. I just try to be there and be understanding of his loss. What helped me when my dad died was just knowing that a person was there to listen if I needed them. Your post was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

BARBIE said...

I am so sorry to hear about this tragedy. I will remember to say a prayer for this family. Thank you for sharing this post.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the gift of your post. I applaud your courage, by sharing your story you have helped others find their voice in a difficulty and painful situation. Your suggestions are going to help many avoid the mind fields so that they do not inadvertently in flicked pain while discussing the loss of a loved one. My heart aches for the Taatjes, that young family is blessed to have the support of your community.
I would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that this past Friday was National Healthcare Decisions Day. Please take this opportunity to sitting down with your loved ones today and discuss what your wishes are at the end of life!
As a hospice nurse I have worked with many families left to ‘figure’ out what their loved one may or may not have wanted with regards to end of life care decisions and funeral arrangements. Not once have I heard a family say I wish mom/dad/brother/sister/grandma or grandpa did not have their wishes written out so I that we could debate what they might have been. Out lining your advance directives and final wishes is truly the best gift you can ever give them. It enables your loved one to feel confident they can make the right decisions for you when you can no longer make them. For more information on advance directives go to and
Prayers and blessing for your community as you rally around the Taatjes.

Heidi Pocketbook said...

I'm so sorry to read of this tragedy. I think you've offered some very helpful and practical advice for things to say and do (and not) to those grieving.

Hope you're doing ok, Cindy.

Amanda Trought said...

Sorry for your loss and will hold the Taatje family up in prayer. Your so right with what you friend of 30 years passed away 3 weeks ago suddenly leaving 5 children. Some days they want to hear stories about their mum when she was younger and others just being there is what is needed. Have a blessed week.

Natasha Ohlman said...

There were two fires that claimed the lives of people in G.R. last Thursday night. The other you just haven’t heard much about. He happened to be my mom’s best friend. He was 71, an alcoholic, a fiend smoker, estranged from his 3 grown children and a grandfather to boys he had never met. He had the chance to meet one of them last year, but didn’t feel he was put together enough and wanted to leave a good lasting impression for his Grandson. He was INCREDIBLY generous with the little he had and fully enjoyed talking with people. He was trapped by his vices and many people couldn’t get past that to see the kindness that he longed to share.

As people were contacted this past week about his death, I was disappointed by their response or lack of it. If were being honest we well know, it is far easier to love, be drawn to, seek out and boast of friendships to those who are beautiful, well spoken, exuberant, accomplished, young, well to do and socially soaring. It’s the lowly outcasts, the less than pretty, the awkward, the downtrodden that challenge our capacity to accept and love. My mom’s friend was the later of the two. I think he was the kind of person Jesus would have spent time with.

His addictions caused hardships for him and his family in life. His kids will have to work through the anger, the hurt that comes from the forgiveness that was never given and the loss of hope for a renewed relationship with their Dad. In the end though, he was still their Dad…a person…a child of GOD.

I am in awe at the outpouring for the Taatje family by their church community and the community beyond, complete strangers loving on them. That’s how it should be! At the same time it saddens me that a family dealing with loss due to similar circumstances is missing out on that very thing. Oh, how they would be impacted by that same love and compassion by complete stangers. Perhaps even more so, to be shown how God’s Love supersedes our shortcomings, that social standards are not a barrier for Him, that His people can love beyond those standards as well, that His people could love their dad and them.

I’m not pointing the finger, just sharing my observations of the past week and sadly realizing a missed opportunity.

Life is hard, isn’t it?

Maggie S. said...

Such a wonderful post. I am bookmarking it for future reference. Would that I would never need it, but anyway.

I am sorry to hear this tragic story, and will pray for comfort.

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