A friend of mine just recently lost her child in a car accident. I have been thinking about her non stop but have yet to speak to my friend. It has already been a few weeks, and I haven’t called because I simply don’t know what to say. Yesterday I saw her in the grocery store and actually hid so that I wouldn’t have to face her. I am just worried about saying the wrong thing, and think that maybe it is just better not to say anything at all? Also, it is not like I am such a close friend of hers, she has a lot of friends, so I really don’t want to be a bother during this time. Please let me know what you suggest.


Dear Debra,

You raise an issue that almost everyone struggles with at some point in life. Death is natural. Death happens to all of us. Yet there are times when death seems appropriate, and times when it does not. As hard and difficult as the loss of a loved one is, we expect that we will first lose great grandparents, then grandparents, then parents, etc. Part of life is dealing with the reality that as we age, so do our loved ones, and that sooner or later we will have to face that loss.

When we avoid someone it is often because we are are so uncomfortable, not because we don't want to make the other uncomfortable

Yet then there are the situations that don’t fit into this plan, situations that we often do not know how to deal with. When a young father gets sick leaving behind a wife and small children, when a baby dies soon after birth, when a mother is killed in a car accident, when a toddler dies from a fall…yet these things do happen. We don’t understand or know why, but they do. And these are the situations that are the most unbearable for those who suffered the loss, and the most uncomfortable and overwhelming for those who witness this suffering, for we don’t even know what to say or do.

Jewish law is extensive in how it teaches us to deal with death, loss and mourning (See From Life to Life on this website for a comprehensive guide and further readings). And there are many lessons we can learn from this, not only in what to do, but why.

When someone suffers a loss, we have an obligation during their week of mourning, to visit and comfort the mourner. This teaches us that it is not up to us to decide if our presence is wanted because Torah is teaching us that our presence is needed.

Furthermore, when one goes to visit a mourner, the visitor is not supposed to speak until spoken to. Again, this shows us that sometimes it is better not to speak, especially if we are not sure what to say, but our mere presence is serving a purpose and showing us that we should and must acknowledge the loss and pay a visit to the mourner. And that visit alone is called a “comfort.” Now, once the mourner begins to speak, then we obviously speak in return. This shows us that we should allow the mourner to lead the way, to lead the conversation, to decide what it is that he or she is ready or willing to talk about.

Often it is easy to think that the mourner is better off if we do not visit, do not say anything, do not approach him or her. But it is not the case. When someone has suffered a tragic and unexpected loss, it is then, more than ever, that he or she needs the support, comfort, and involvement of other people. While I know this may be hard to hear, when we avoid someone it is often because we are so unmfortable, not because we don't want to make the other person uncomfortable. It is far better that we should make an attempt, reach out, offer some words of consolement or help and be turned away, than not do so at the expense of further hurting the mourner. Because inaction most definitely screams a loud statement of not caring, even though this is often not at all the case.

This is especially true in situations where the actual laws of mourning do not apply. When one sits shivah there is a natural structure for people to come and visit and for people to offer to bring food and help in other ways. Yet there are times that someone is not required by Jewish law to mourn officially, though has suffered severe loss nonetheless, be it of a very close friend or not an immediate family member family member, or perhaps not even a death, but a significant injury or life threatening medical condition of a loved one. In this situation, if we do not reach out, this person is truly left all alone to suffer and mourn, and no one should have to feel abandoned during such a time.

The following list is a number of suggestions that I offer based on my own personal experiences as well as those who are close to me who have suffered loss and have shared these suggestions. I hope you will find them helpful and that they will give you the courage to face your friend.


  1. Do call and acknowledge that you are aware of the situation and are available if the person wants to talk. If this is too difficult for you, then sending a sympathy card in the mail is also an appropriate way to show that you care. When you don’t, you often leave the mourner wondering if you even know and if so, why haven’t you contacted her.

  2. Do find out what kind of help the person is receiving. Does she have help with her other children? Does she have someone to help with the cooking or cleaning? Speak to other community members and friends and organize a schedule for people to cook meals for a few weeks and have the kids over for playdates. Try to handle carpools or other daily errands so that they do not need to do them. Offer to go grocery shopping for them. Figure out what is lacking, and try to either offer that help yourself or hire someone to do it.

  3. Do send flowers, or if there are children, buy them some presents and toys so they have something to play with and to make them feel better. Remember that their parents are dealing with grief and are not able to focus on them as much during this time.

  4. Do let other people know of the situation so that they do not cause further grief by approaching the mourners unaware. For example, nothing is more painful for a woman who has lost a pregnancy or baby than to be asked repeatedly “What did you have, a boy or a girl?” every time she sees acquaintances.

  5. Do offer to accompany your friend when she ventures back out into the world. Offer to go with her the first time to the bank, the grocery store, the school. Be her emotional bodyguard who can help avoid painful encounters and unnecessary small talk. This way you can let clerks or others know of the situation so that your friend can avoid having to answer for herself. This will also give her strength to deal with these situations in the future.

  6. Do ask how her husband and children are dealing with the loss. Recognize that this was their child/sibling as well.

  7. Do try to do something in memory of the person who passed. It is very comforting to the mourner to know that things are being done for their loved one, be it buying Jewish prayerbooks for the synagogue, dedicating learning in his or her memory or planting a tree in Israel.

  8. Do remember that each and every person mourns in different ways. It is not uncommon for one to be very strong and optimistic immediately following a loss, only to be falling apart a few months later when the reality of that loss has completely sunk in. Make sure to call and touch base as time goes on, especially during the holidays and at other family oriented times when the loss is all the more apparent and painful.

  9. Do invite your friend out to a meal or to spend an afternoon together as the months pass. She may need some prompting or just that invitation to get out and start doing things again.

No one should have to feel abandoned during such a time


  1. Don’t tell someone you know how it feels because you don’t. We all mourn in different ways and we can never really know what it is like for the other, even if we have gone through something similar. And never compare loss. Never tell someone, “I know what you are going through with the loss of your child because last year when I lost my grandfather I was devastated….” Even though you may have dearly loved your grandfather and his loss may have been unbearable to you, it should not and cannot be compared to the loss of one’s child.

  2. Don’t avoid the person or pretend that nothing has happened. You are only making the mourner feel that much more abandoned and uncomfortable. Their loss is great enough without also having to feel that they have lost friends as well.

  3. Don’t ask questions or for information out of your own curiosity. If details haven’t been offered, assume the person doesn’t want to share them. You do not need to know how the person died, if anyone was there, if they did this or that…it doesn’t matter. These questions can be very painful for the mourner to recall and do not change the situation or the outcome.

  4. Don’t try and minimize the pain or tell the person how things will get better. A woman who has lost a baby does not want to hear how she can have another baby or that at least she knows she can get pregnant. A woman who has lost her husband doesn’t want to hear that she is young and will find someone else to marry. Acknowledge the pain and the rawness of their loss. They do not need solutions, they need support.

  5. Don’t expect that there is a set amount of time for the pain and that a year later the person should be “over it.”

  6. Don’t offer explanations for the loss or try to give it meaning unless the mourner asks for your advice or opinion. It is not for you to tell someone, “Everything happens for the best” or “Your baby must have had such a holy soul that G‑d wanted her back with him.” Even though these statements may be true, Chassidut teaches us that everything we say must be b’ofen ha’mitkabel meaning in a vessel, in a way, that the recipient is able to receive it.

I hope you have found the above helpful and that you will make the effort now to get in touch with your friend again. It is never too late and I would suggest starting by writing a letter and admitting that you were so uncomfortable that you weren’t sure what to do, but you are so pained by her loss and you think of her always and that you are sorry you didn’t let her know sooner.

May we all be blessed to know no more suffering or loss!