There is an unfortunate truth. The best way to empathize with a person going through something is having gone through it yourself.

I can’t shake this fact. My cousin and his wife lost a newborn baby recently. Mere weeks before the actual due date. Their daughter was scheduled to join her three older brothers later this summer. A baby they held for only minutes.

That sucks. Living miles and miles away, I don’t know what to say. I have nothing wise to offer. A recitation of my doctrinal beliefs doesn’t touch this couple’s wounded heart.

I have seen people offer condolences on their Facebook wall. By far, the most heartfelt, healing posts have been from those who have been there.

Where have you been? None of us want to go through the ugliness of life to emerge the comforter. Yet that’s often the way of things.

I did go through something. I lost my father when he was 55-years-old. Tragically. He went too soon and the circumstances surrounding his death were questionable.

But I don’t want to write about that. Personal family history. Truths that impact more than just me.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

 – Ernest Hemingway

Then, God reminded me of this truth I’ve learned. The best way to empathize with a person going through something is having gone through it yourself.

There is more to the story. About the people who walked my dad’s death with me. I have walked through the grief of an untimely death. And I remember well those who helped me. Even though they probably didn’t realize it. One gentleman in particular.

My dad had a childhood friend named Stephen. They grew up on the same street. Sowed wild oats together as teens. Years later, I grew up creating my own memories with Stephen’s children.

He was my first choice as a pallbearer at my dad’s funeral. They didn’t always see eye to eye but that afternoon when my brothers and I sat in the funeral home planning the memorial service, I thought back on a person who had walked every stage of life with my dad and Stephen came to mind. I needed him included in this chapter too.

We had a visitation for my dad. I can’t tell you much about it. So many faces, hugs, handshakes. I am thankful for the crowd but when you are grieving, much of it is a blur.

The few things you do remember settle deep into your heart memories though. You never, ever forget.

Stephen stood in line waiting his turn to express his condolences to me and my brothers. (Being newly divorced after 27 years of marriage, my mother lingered somewhere off stage right, not knowing her place.) When it was his turn in the receiving line, he gave me a full embrace. And whispered these words in my ear:

This isnt right. Well find whoevers involved with this.

Very mobesque. Almost surreal. Even though there was no need for revenge, those words meant everything to me.

These are the sentiments I remember. Those who expressed how unfair the situation was. My aunt who left the funeral home in tears because the grief was too much.

My co-workers, three states away, who could not have understood my family dynamics. Yet they refused to even consider me coming back to work until I had fully laid my dad to rest. As if that could happen in a few days’ time.

We go round and round discussing the best way to walk through grief with someone. What should we say? Should we say anything? Here’s what I know. Sit in the silence with someone. Don’t try to solve anything. Swap stories. Sharing verses is beautiful but sharing your opinion is not. Let them scream at you – at God. Give them time. Don’t forget or ignore them. That’s what I can offer my cousin and his family. Even from a distance.

Leave the trite cliches at the door. We’d rather feel your touch, see you sitting in a chair.

The human spirit is resilient. Offer your support then get yourself out of the way and let God do His work.

Photo credit: antonychammond via / CC BY-NC-SA

Traci Rhoades

Traci Rhoades is a writer and Bible teacher. She lives in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area with her family and an ever-changing number of pets. Connect with her online at or @tracesoffaith on twitter. She is the author of "Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost."