Comforting Words - When You Don't Know What To Say

This is the blog of Robbie Miller Kaplan, author of "How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say." Please bookmark my site as a resource on helpful ways to comfort those facing tough times. Comments and questions are welcome!

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Welcome to Comforting Words! We’ve all faced a situation that’s left us speechless. A friend shares a devastating medical diagnosis, you learn via email of a relative’s death, or an acquaintance with a long-standing marriage tells you she’s getting divorced. What do you say? We’ve all been at a loss for words when we've needed them most. My goal in creating this blog is to provide a forum to share stories, ideas, and resources that will help us communicate effectively when confronted with unexpected news of loss and difficult times. And most important, I’d like to give insight into the best ways to help others so they don’t feel isolated and unsupported when facing difficult times. I feel so passionately about the importance of providing support that I wrote a book on the topic: How to Say It When You Don’t Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times. It's now available in volumes on Illness & Death, Miscarriage, Suicide and e-books on Death of a Child, Death of Newborn or Stillborn Baby, Divorce, Pet Loss and Caregiver Responsiblities at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Seasons of grief

It’s wintertime for me. At the most dismal time of year, the birthdays of three special family members and the anniversaries of their deaths fall within a ten-week period. I used to think the weather made this time even gloomier until I read an essay that changed my thinking. The writer’s father died in July and the author recounts how, despite the sunshine and flowers, July is always a season of sadness for her.

So how do we cope with these seasons of grief? I’ve learned that there is no right or wrong way to work through it. Grief is so personal and unique and it’s influenced by our experience and relationships.

As the years have passed, I’ve handled these seasons differently, trying not to get mired in it. Sometimes I’ve keep busy, not just with my work, but with an active social life. Other times travel is a great distraction. I often try to focus on being productive so if I succumb to sadness, at least I feel a sense that I’m moving forward. Often, just living in the present and keeping an eye on the future helps.

But what I have learned over the years is that at some point, no matter how sad, it is essential for me to acknowledge my family members. I think of them on their birthdays, feeling my love for them and the gratitude that they were a part of my life. I light a candle for each of them on the anniversary of their deaths. The candle burns for twenty-four hours and as I move through my day, I glimpse the candle as I pass and it reminds me how their spirit continues to live on within me.

What I’ve found empowering is the knowledge that while I can’t change what has happened to me, I can control how I manage the experience. I can avoid it by burying myself or getting out of town. Or, I can acknowledge it and allow myself to recognize the gifts that were mine, no matter how fleeting. All of us have that power.

Robbie Miller Kaplan is the author of 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." Three additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn and Newborn Baby" and "Pet Loss." Click here to order.

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