What to Say When There are No Words

I have a side hustle as a stylist for a premium clothing company. One of the ladies at our home office recently suffered the unimaginable. I’m not here to tell about the loss–that is her journey, not mine. I’m also choosing not to use her name or provide details of her story for the sake of her privacy. However, this brave woman chose to share the lessons she has learned through her experience of deep grief with the women of our company. To say that it was both inspiring and gut-wrenching would be an understatement. Through the entire video presentation, I watched with a lump in my throat and a sense of awe for this lady baring her soul in hopes of benefitting others in grief or witnessing grief.


Part of her discussion dealt with the feeling that we have no words in times of crisis. I know I’ve felt that- haven’t you? I’ve probably even said that phrase- “I have no words.” She assured us that we do have words. Part of her chosen words fit with times of incomprehensible loss, as she faced, but also translate into our everyday lives.

She used the simple situation of greeting a person in mourning to teach compassion, and I believe that this doesn’t just apply to bereavement. She noted that people didn’t know what to say or how to approach her following her tragic loss. Many would say the typical, “Hi! How are you?” Some would even put a solemn tone to the otherwise generic greeting. As she eloquently put it, we really don’t want to know how a person who is heartbroken is doing.

She had a couple of phrases that might put someone at ease rather than on the spot. When that “how are you” question is asked, it opens the door for all kinds of emotions for both the sufferer and the friend. That question brings with it the intention of an answer that the sufferer may not want or need to discuss. She suggested a twist on that question. “Hi! How’s today?” A tiny substitution of words, yet a huge difference in the required response. That question doesn’t carry any emotional baggage. It doesn’t need to feel heavy. The response could simply be about the weather or the events of the day. No wound opened. No awkward moment.


She provided another option. How about simply saying, “Hi! I’m so happy to see you!”? I love this one because there’s no response needed. It just lets that person know how much you care. No grand gesture- just sincerity and a smile.


These words feel right. They ring true to me for those times when someone is experiencing grief, but also for every day. We never know what folks have going on in their lives. That greeting–“How are you?”– holds too much weight when we really just want to show love and light. I know there have been times in my life when I’ve thought, “if you only knew…” when someone asked that question of me. As I tell my children, everyone has something that they’re dealing with. No one has that perfect life.

So, how’s today? Yeah- just today. No judgments. No expectations. No opinions. Just today.

And, I’m really happy to see you! Truthful. Cheerful. Grateful. Hopeful.

I feel so fortunate that this brave woman shared her painful lessons with us. My way of spreading her message is to use her words in my interactions with people who are outwardly grieving as well as those hiding their pain. Adopting her words will help me show greater compassion. Shouldn’t that be everyone’s goal?

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