06/23/2013 12:37 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2013

What to Say to Yourself (And Those You Love) When the Worst-Case Scenario Comes True

I've barely turned on the TV these past few weeks, 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 and 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 and 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 and loss, but fortunately, I happen to know one.

I asked Christina Rasmussen -- a counselor, crisis recovery specialist, and the founder of Second Firsts and 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.

What to Say When Someone You Love Is Grieving

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}

What to Say (to Yourself) When You Are Grieving

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 and re-enter their lives. It's opening this summer. And it's free -- forever.

For more by Alexandra Franzen, click here.

For more on death and dying, click here.