When You Don’t Know What to Say

My friend called. She uttered the words I had prayed against. I blinked. The humidity hummed against my skin. My face felt heavy, prickly, flush all at once. I didn’t know what to say. These were the words no doctor wants to say and no one wants to hear. The words that suffocate you, lodge in your throat, and sting your nose and eyes.

She whispered those words, and I was heartbroken and speechless. I searched for the words that could undo the sting, mend the cracks, resurrect the broken. But there were none.


When Chris died – an unimaginable 7 years ago – I forced myself to make all the phone calls to share the news. My voice shook so frantically that many people couldn’t understand what I was saying.

One call, my words finally spat out, all I could hear was her shrieking on the other end of the line, sobs echoing violently in the atrium where she stood. Another, they were so shocked, all they could say was, “it’ll be okay,” and I recoiled and yelled and sobbed that, no, no, it would never be okay again. Someone else pulled off the highway and prayed over me. In all the calls, there were a hundred utterances of “oh, my God,” calling upon a Father they may or may not believe in.

Many hung up the phone, got in their cars or climbed on airplanes, and came and held me wordlessly.

To this day, these memories make my body shake imperceptibly, the palpable weight of grief still there behind closed doors.


There’s a part of me that believes these memories, these experiences should have better equipped me to respond when someone tells me equally bad news. I hoped to grope around in the darkness and stumble upon the words I could use to console.

But there are none.

Paul wrote, “weep with those who weep,” and I am realizing the blunt beauty of that phrase. When there are no words, weeping is the only option.


I once read about a woman who studied the microscopic make up of tears. She discovered stunning patterns that seemed to correlate with different types of tears – the tears of grief, of joy, of onions. The photographer said the topography of tears seems to “carry a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of the ocean.”

Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. [Rose-Lynn Fisher]

Only with tears, then, do we really connect over the deepest of griefs, the darkest of valleys.


I want to add that even when the tears won’t come, when your eyes are parched and your jaw clenches against the hurt, the point is that you’re there. Even if you’re 3000 miles away, you’re there. There to answer the phone, a text message, an email. There to say, this sucks. There to say, I’m sorry. There to say, I love you.

My friend calls, and I weep for her, with her. And our tears carry the weight of our heartbreak.


Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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