Start with One Word When Writing Memories

In the days, weeks, and months after the unexpected loss of my father, people said all kinds of things to me. I was twenty seven and reeling from the truth that he was washing dishes with me at the kitchen sink just one night before and gone less than twenty four hours later. I was used to soap suds disappearing and was not prepared for his presence to pop like a glossy bubble.

Some responses were helpful and comforting.

Others were less than, laced with discomfort and an obvious desire to keep my pain at a distance.

I quickly learned to let well-intentioned sentiments slide off my shoulders and bounce off my back, turning away from their hurtful words.

On a good day, I knew most folks were trying to make sense of the loss of a person they also knew, interacted with, and loved. On a bad day, my pain swallowed up compassion for others, shutting down opportunities for connection as I struggled with folks seemingly clueless responses.

There is one statement I heard a lot – it always made me bristle.

You’ve probably heard it too.

There are no words.

Maybe kind, caring, and confused folks didn’t have much to say, but I, a grieving writer, was swirling in words which turned into thoughts and strong feelings.

Maybe they can’t find words but I’ve used plenty to grapple with my unexpected loss.

You may too.

It has been three and a half years since my dad Roy died on a Friday morning. I’ve turned to words to find comfort, to process, and to broach the gaps between the unknown and a horribly transformative new normal.  I’ve shared my experience on public platforms, on my blog, and teach workshops to guide individuals as they use their words to tell their stories of loss and life after.

Grief work is deeply personal, sacred, and scary. We must keep our hearts and our healing safe. To do so, we must extend grace and compassion to ourselves and others.

We must also know what helps for us on an individual level. If you’re curious about bringing words to your grief experience, you can use the following writing exercises designed for both adults and children.

Start with one word.

Ask yourself which part of your grief process you want to focus on. Write these focuses across the top of a page. Topics can include memories, feelings, frustrations or things you are struggling with.

Then make a list of all the words that come to mind related to your chosen focus.

Challenge yourself to only use one word at a time rather than phrases and see how many words you can generate.


Focus = Things He Loved: cheeseburgers, Sunday, flannel, fish, pinball,

Focus = I’m Struggling With: communication, sleep, fear, peace, bills, truth, shoes

Let More Words Flow

Perhaps people say, “There are no words” because they don’t know where to start. The first exercise does just that.

Circle one to five words from your lists and ask yourself, “If I could help others understand these words, what would I say?” Take five to ten minutes to write freely about each word. Explore where you can combine words on your list to make bigger ideas.

You can also use these prompts to get the juices flowing.

What do I want the world to know about the person I love?

What do I miss about the person I lost?

What am I proud of in handling this new reality?

What is different now after I lost my person?

Make note of what comes up for you. Start to count how many words you just used to share your experience. You can choose to keep your lists to yourself or share with people you trust.

Use Different Words Instead

Even after experiencing my own loss, I still get tongue-tied when encountering others grief and pain. I’ve come to rely on these phrases to share with others as they walk their own grief journeys. You can use these phrases to comfort rather than dismiss pain.

20 words – Life knocks us to our knees in so many ways. I’d like to bring over dinner. Would that be ok?

12 – I loved your dad. Can I tell you a story about him?

8 words – Can I call and check in later today?

7 words – I’m sending comfort and light your way.

6 words – I’m not sure what to say.

3 words – I’m so sorry.

2 words – This sucks.

1 word – Ugh.

Words put us on a path to healing, discovery, and connection. You get to choose how to use your words to comfort others, remember, and integrate your loss. Don’t let others tell you no words exist. Look how many you just used to honor your experience.

Bio: Katie Huey has spent the last 3 years using her words to process, vent, and make sense of her experience with the loss of her dad and has been published in Hello Humans, Evoke Magazine, and Conscious Company Magazine. You can read more of her story at and follow her on Instagram at @52beautiful.