How to Respond to Tragedy

How do we as Christians support others when we hear of their loss, whether it is that of a friend or family member, sudden or expected?  There are no easy answers to this, but here are a few guidelines:

What to say:

Keep it simple.  “I am so sorry.”  “I can’t even imagine how hard this is for you.”  “I am so sad for you.”  What a grieving or traumatized person needs most is a quiet, caring presence.  Our words can harm as well as help, so we need to keep them to a minimum.  The key here is for you to show up and sit with the person (if you can), or you can call and express your thought – “I don’t really know what to say, but I want you to know that I care so much about you.”  And thenbe quiet, and listenWe don’t have to fill the silence with our words; the grieving person has that option, if they choose to use it (or not).  If you believe that the person might want you to pray with them, you can ask them, and then follow up or not as they respond.  Be careful with this: they may not be ready.

What NOT to say:

  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’ve been there.”
  • “This reminds me of when I… (your personal experience of tragedy).”
  • “I’m sure God has a reason for this.”
  • “I know that (the person who is gone, hurt, etc.) is in a better place now.”

Before you call or visit someone who has suffered a tragedy or loss, take the time to talk to the Holy Spirit, and ask for wisdom in your words and actions.  God can truly make you an instrument of grace and peace when you bring his quiet presence to a hurting friend or loved one.


Katie Retzner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the Meier Clinics in Wheaton, Illinois. Prior to joining Meier Clinics, Katie was a social worker for seven years in the public school system where she worked extensively with special needs and typical child/family concerns. She also taught public speaking and writing classes for eight years as an adjunct instructor at Benedictine University.