A New Language for Sadness

language for sadness • sorry for loss isn't enough

A plane is shot from the sky over an unsettled country, and people die.

An army invades a hot desert land, and people die.

A giant of a man, feeling he has nothing left to live for, takes his life out in the grassy field of his rural hideaway home.

A brother, felled down by a stuttering heart, is taken off life support.

A young handsome man, exploring the rainforest, falls to his death down a deep ravine.


All around us there is unfathomable sadness. It tugs at our edges of our coats, as though we were caught against a barbed wire fence. It’s hard to ignore all the pain in the world.

I’m sorry for your loss seems so shallow and inadequate — the words worn out from over use. We need a new language for sadness. What should we say instead?

I see your pain and acknowledge the courage it takes just to get through a single day.


Life is brutal and unfair. May you find your way to peace in the chaos.

or maybe simply…

That’s fucked. What can I do to help?

For all of you who have lost someone you love, these are the only words that express my small role in your great sadness ~ That’s fucked. What can I do to help?


What do you say to your friends and family who have suffered a great loss?


 → photo source

A new language for sadness - when I'm sorry for your loss isn't enough

About KatieP

Embracing my midlife sexy while exploring modern love & relationships • Devoted to all things beautiful • Master of Arts in creative writing & non-fiction writing

26 thoughts on “A New Language for Sadness

  1. Sometimes it’s difficult for the person who has directly suffered the great loss to articulate what they need help with. It’s better if you can come up with something to do for them:
    “Hand me that second sheet of phone numbers and I will call the people you haven’t spoken to. Do you want calls back or just cards?”
    “I’m handling dinner next Tuesday.”
    “I’ve got your kids tonight.”

    1. Good advice, Laura. Thank you.
      Speaking for myself though, I would have hated someone to take over without an invitation. Being able to exert control in other areas of my life reduced the feeling of overall helplessness.
      But not everyone’s me, so thanks for sharing ♥

  2. For me it depends on the nature of the death and other factors (like the age of the person who died).

    While it certainly feels like a loss to those who are left behind, sometimes I say, simply, “Godspeed to [name] on his/her journey and peace to you.”

    And sometimes I share something that Ram Dass wrote (obviously changing the language to suit the situation):

    “Your father finished his work on earth and left the stage in a manner that leaves those of us left behind with a cry of agony in our heart as the fragile thread of our faith is dealt with so unexpectedly. Is anyone strong enough to stay conscious through such teachings as you are receiving? Probably very few, and even they would only have a whisper of equanimity and peace amidst the screaming trumpets of their rage, grief, horror and desolation. I can’t assuage your pain with any words, nor should I. For your pain is your Father’s legacy to you, not that he or I would inflict such pain by choice, but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion, for something in you dies when you bear the unbearable. It is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love as God loves.

    Now is the time to let your grief find expression, no false friend. Now is the time to sit quietly and speak to your father and thank him for being with you for these years and encourage him to go on with whatever his work is. Knowing that you will grow in compassion and wisdom from this experience. In my heart I know that you and he will meet again and again and recognize the many ways in which you have known each other, and when you meet you will know in a flash what now it is not given to you to know: why this had to be the way it was.

    Our rational minds can never understand what has happened, but our hearts if we keep them open to God will find their own intuitive way. Your father came to do his work on earth, which includes his manner of death. Now his soul is free and the love that you can share with him is invulnerable to the winds of changing time and space, in that deep love, include me.”

  3. You are right Katie, there are times when mere words just don’t seem to do it. For me it depends on the relationship I have with the person, some times, That’s fucked, what can I do to help, is the best and only thing you can say! xoxo

  4. I now tell them I hold them in the light and send blessings, which is my substitute for “I’m sorry”. If it’s someone close to me I also cook, bake (no one can ever think of what they need in the midst of grief so I just do it, everyone can use a meal even if it goes straight to the freezer for now) and when the busy part is over, spend quiet time with my loved one, time when there is space to talk through their grief/beliefs/memories if they want. I think there are some things we just should do without making them ask or even think , like cooking, and then after things have slowed down, time is always a good gift. Your time.

  5. What a moving piece, Katie. There are no perfect responses to sudden loss….my husband died suddenly from a heart attack. All the hugs and cards and meals helped tremendously….but the ones that stand out are comments like yours above: “this sucks” close friends whispered in my ear.
    I am sorry for your loss and admire your growth and strength.

  6. I have lost alot of loved ones in my life and the worst thing you can say by far is “How are you doing?” Although I thank you for the sentiment I just want to scream How the hell do you think I am doing! I wouldn’t want someone to take over for me. Maybe the best thing we can do is just sit quietly and listen. This always seemed to help. Don’t try to stop the flow of my sadness just listen to what I have to say. Maybe I’m just way off base.

  7. You really beautifully ask a good question. I will say sorry for your loss and I am really sorry for the loss of the person. If I knew the person and can recount a favorable attribute I will mention it. In death I try to speak from the heart. I will ask if I can do something, any details I can do to help. I will make some food item. A friend’s Mom passed and it was a relief for all, and she was quickly cremated with no service, no ceremony, no reminiscing. I did not present food and she was disappointed that no one even brought her a casserole. Won’t let that happen again!

  8. If I knew the person who has passed away, I always try to say something about them and how they impacted me. I know that was what was most comforting to me when my father died.

  9. Like you, having been on the receiving end of words that neither comfort nor console, I stick with the simplest version. “I’m so sorry.” And then I might write a few memories of the person who died, if that’s the situation, and mail it. When people don’t know what to say, they often offer well-meaning but unhelpful platitudes–it’s just human nature to do it, trying to make someone feel better the best way we know how. After my dad died, a good friend showed up on my doorstep with arms full of food–didn’t say a word–and I just burst into tears.

  10. That’s so true. Sometimes it’s just fucked. Of course, probably not the best thing to say to my aunt or my grandmother…but I could just shorten to I’m sorry…and keep the “that’s fucked” in my head.

  11. That’s a great question! What can I do to help, sounds pretty good to me. Having just recently lost a few people I love..it is definitely “fucked up.”

  12. I never know what to say. These ideas are helpful! But I do know what NOT to say… The dreaded “everything happens for a reason.”

Comments are closed.