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You Can Quote Me On That...

Posted by Nancy Weil on February 1, 2014

One of the most difficult aspects of our job is to know what to say to a person who is grieving. Finding just the right balance between providing comfort and being sincere. We all know what not to say and we have heard many stories of unskillful comments being made to the mourner in an attempt to “cheer them up.” Words seem inadequate when the heart is yearning for what it can no longer have… the person who has died. Beyond the “I am sorry for your loss,” there are few things that can be said. Add to that the inability of the bereaved to truly hear and grasp anything you say and you have the challenging situation of helping them while not overstepping your bounds.

  This situation does not end with the funeral and burial. Even as weeks turn into months which turn into years, the bereaved still yearn for comforting words that they can hang on to as they journey through their pain. I have found a few phrases that I quote again and again that provide just the right balance of comfort and hope. I mix them into the conversation and add a bit of interpretation and spin based upon the circumstance. You may have some of your own, but here are my standbys:


  “What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”             –Helen Keller

  This phrase says so much in so few words. The idea that love never dies and that our loved ones become a part of our journey forward is a truth that resonates deeply.


  To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

–Thomas Campbell

  I use this quote in many of the funeral services where I serve as the officiant. Again, anchoring the bereaved in the belief that the heart connection is eternal. Reminding them that their loved one’s legacy rest securely in them and that as they continue to remember them, they never truly leave us.


  Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

–Morrie Schwartz

  Another take on this same idea is from Morrie Schwartz’s quote. His seven words go straight to the heart of the matter. Morrie is the subject of the book Tuesdays with Morrie and this quote is one of my favorites. People die, but those left behind continue to talk to them, think about them, tell their story and say their name.


  “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”   Robert Frost

  I love this quote and use it in my grief support programs. Life does “go on.” Babies are born, weddings are celebrated, people get sick or face other challenges, flowers bloom in the spring and the sun rises and sets each day. Life does not stop just because someone is grieving. The healing journey is one of getting back into the flow of the life that now exists before them.


  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. That which is essential is invisible to the eye.”

–Antoine de Saint Exuperty

  This is from my favorite book, The Little Prince. These words invite you to look deeply into what love truly is about. We may “love ice cream” or “love the Red Sox,” but this refers to the kind of love that is unseen, yet real; felt rather than touched. It beckons you to tune into the truth your heart reveals and trust it more than you do your logical mind.


  We do not heal from grief by leaving our loved ones behind. We heal by bringing them with us in all that we are and all that we do.”                                                     –Nancy Weil 

  I humbly submit to you the words that came out of my mouth during a grief support group and that I have turned to again and again over the years. People hold onto their grief in the mistaken notion that moving on means forgetting. This is nonsense. Loved ones travel with us and become a part of our journey all the days of our lives. They inspire, motivate and teach us still as we recall what they taught us in their words and deeds.

  When words fail you, perhaps some of these will be the ones you need. It is our job to choose our words carefully and provide the comfort and reassurance those we serve require. It may not seem like enough at times, but it is all we have to offer besides the reassuring hug, the hand to hold and the shoulder to cry on. I do have one more quote to share with you, but this is not one that I use with the families I serve, but when I need a perspective shift or a needed chuckle. It sums up what many feel…


  “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”          Woody Allen


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