What to say to yourself (+ those you love) when the worst-case scenario comes true.


I’ve barely turned on the news this week, and yet, I’ve still absorbed an avalanche of bad news.

A shooting on the school campus where a close friend works. (She’s rattled, but powering through.)

Another (unrelated) shooting, just a few blocks away. (My mom’s physical therapist shared the news, as it unfolded. Her cousin — a young father — was injured in the fray.)

A beloved family friend fainted, fell flat on his back + was hospitalized for a severe concussion. (His wife is currently battling cancer. Again.)

And then, on a global-scale, Nelson Mandela was hospitalized. War rages on. In some places, the ceiling is literally crashing down.

Sometimes, despite all our best efforts, thoughtful preparations, tender hopes + loving mantras, the worst-case scenario comes true.

And when that happens, we often find ourselves at a loss for words.

I know I do.

After all …

What do you say, to console someone who has seen the ugliest side of humanity? Who has faced their worst nightmare? Who has lost everything?

What do you say, to comfort yourself?

I’m not an expert on grief + loss — but fortunately, I happen to know one.

I asked Christina Rasmussen — a counselor, crisis recovery specialist, and the founder of Second Firsts + The Life Starters Network — for her thoughts on what to say when the worst rips into reality.

I’ve woven her insights into two simple scripts — one for when someone you love is grieving, and one for yourself.
(Both got the Official Rasmussen Stamp Of Approval. Excellent.)

You can use these scripts in an email, as a framework for a phone call, or as a gentle guideline for a face-to-face conversation.

Use them with love.

Send them with a prayer.



Dear {name},

I won’t pretend that I know exactly what you’re feeling.

I don’t — because I’ve never gone through exactly what you’re going through.

But I do know what it feels like to lose something precious, and I know what it feels like to grieve.

I also know what it feels like to rebuild, reinvent, and keep living. (It is possible. I promise.)

So: I’m here if you need me.

Like, call-me-at-4-in-the-morning here. Really, fully here.

When you’re ready, let me know how I can support you, best.

All my love,

{your name}



Dear Self,

I am grieving.

Grief is natural.

But I was not born to grieve — I was born to love, and laugh, and live.

Grief is only my waiting room — for the moment.

And one day, soon, I will step out of that waiting room, and back into my life.

I’ll take one small step today, right now, by {insert itty-bitty action step, here}.

That one small step will feel loving, and beautiful, and good.

And that one small step is all I need to do — for now.


{your name}


P.S. If you (or someone you love) is struggling to cope with an unexpected loss — a visible loss, like a death or divorce, or an invisible loss, like the loss of a cherished piece of your identity — send them to The Life Starters. It’s an action-based social network for people who are ready to rebuild + re-enter their lives. It’s opening this summer. And it’s free — forever.

Polaroid photo of me by the inimitable Catherine Just.


grief // catharsis lifescripts // what-ifs


My boyfriend got diagnosed with (non-terminal!) cancer in the past few months, which is why I haven’t gotten back to you on my stress workshop…I canceled it, because I knew if I started talking I would end up crying instead. I’ll do it another time, but for now, this script was enough of a tearing-up + feel-good mix. You’re the bomb.

Daniela on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

DANIELA: Oh hon! That sounds tremendously stressful, and I’m sending you + your boyfriend lots of love. He’s fortunate to have you by his side. And I hope you’re taking care of yourself, too. xoxo.

Alexandra Franzen on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

By the time you get to my age, Alexandra, you’ve gone through far too many of these events. And with my parents’ generation mostly gone, it’s usually happening to my peers. Grief is handled so individually that your scripts are great “foundations.” The one thing I might add to a face-to-face that often elicits a way to really help is “what do you need to do today that you’re dreading — or just avoiding — that I can do for you?” I’ve had really unusual requests and know I truly made a difference without the person having to take the initiative to call and ask.

SHARON: Absolutely. Grief is deeply personal — and these scripts are just a starting point.

I love your question — “What do you need to do today that you’re dreading — or just avoiding — that I can do for you?”

So tender + nurturing. Thank you for sharing!

Alexandra Franzen on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

Oh Alex, Thank you for this. I wish I knew of, and had this last year. Thankfully, I have now walked out of my waiting room of greif, and am enjoying my life again. Those words are exactly what I need to hear.

Kelsey on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

I subscribe to a lot of different people to try them out, to see if their message is authentic and true and will make a difference in my life. If it doesn’t, I unsubscribe.

I’m sticking with you, oh Beautiful Soul. Your words, ideas and the motivations behind them ring true for me. And they help me make positive changes in my life.

Everyone hits grief at one time or another. Right now I can use these words with several people I know who are going through health issues. Thank you.

randi k on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

you’re such a love bomb … thank you.

marielle on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

Love that you care enough to share and shift people into a place of using words to express that care. Words are so important for those that feel loss and those at a loss to know what to feel or how to be.

Thank you Alex, for putting words to this tender subject.

I deal with grief a lot in my work as a psychologist, attorney & relationships coach. I too, give your scripts the “Excellent” Stamp Of Approval.

DR. GELB: Your “Stamp of Approval” means a lot. Deep thanks. :)

Alexandra Franzen on Jun 14, 2013 Reply

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