What do you say to those who are left behind?


When one reaches a certain age, losses occur with a frequency that cannot be ignored.

The Olympia Host Lions Club, of which I am a member, has lost four valued members in the past six months.

Cathy Weaver passed in October after a short illness. Cathy and her husband Darrell were long-time members. Now, they are both gone and sorely missed.

Retired Judge Robert (Bob) Doran passed away in January of this year. I never had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but many in the club spoke highly of him with fond memories.

Marla Collison, who served in the U.S. Army and later worked as a real estate agent, left us in February. Her smiling energy will be missed.

And now, Bill Buthorn is gone after losing a courageous fight against cancer. Bill was a coach and teacher in Tenino before he retired and was an avid golfer after.

It hurts. It hurts to know there will be no more good times shared with these folks who brought laughter, kindness, and, often, inspiration into our lives.

It also makes one think…

What do you say to those who are left behind? What words of comfort can be offered that will bring them some relief? Everyone grieves in their own way and heals in their own time. How can we help?

I have no definitive answers, but over and over, I have heard grief counselors offer the same advice:

Say their name.

Too often, I think we are afraid if we bring up memories of their loved ones, we are just bringing more pain to the forefront. But maybe it will bring a smile instead. Maybe it will lift the veil of sadness for a moment or two.

Maybe it will bring back a memory they want or need to share so we can understand the degree of their loss. Maybe it will help them to know that while on a different level, we, too, are grieving.

There will always be triggers that bring back the sense of loss. Birthdays, anniversaries, a song, or sunset, watching the children and grandchildren reach milestones… that feeling of how much our loved one would have enjoyed the event of the moment.

Sometimes, no words are needed. Sometimes, just a hug would work wonders. Sometimes, lending an ear while they reminisce helps the healing along. I personally believe as long as they are remembered, they will live on in our hearts.

My mother-in-law once told me she would want to know when her death was near so she could clean out her kitchen cupboards. We both laughed at the time, but this memory made me think…

I think I know my children pretty well. When it is my time to leave, I think I know who will need support and who will give it.

Here are my wishes

But just in case I am wrong, here are my wishes.

I hope they think of me when something in my garden actually blooms and thrives. I hope they think about how happy that would have made me.

I hope when they hear music from the 60’s, 70’s and on, they will remember how we used to sing along in the car and dance in the living room until we flopped on the couch from exhaustion.

I hope they laugh about the time I tried Marijuana so I would know what I was warning them about, and I almost drove them crazy with my giggling until I was put to bed to sleep it off.

I hope they talk about how all the dogs in my life ruled the roost. And the time I scraped together enough to buy them a horse so they could ride with their friends. The baby horse I bought turned out to be a full-grown miniature pony, smaller than our dog. After two years of feeding it, I finally found someone to take it off my hands and the kids rode double with their friends on their horses the whole time.

I hope they remember how much I loved our trees and plant one just for me.

I hope they know how much I loved them.

Most of all, I hope they smile, when they say my name…

EDITOR'S NOTE:  On a related topic, you might be interested in reading "After both parents are gone," by Darlene Kemery. 

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia. Contact her at or post your comment below.


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  • WayTooOld

    Thank you for this.

    Saturday, April 20 Report this