By Penny A. Bragg—

“When the funeral director suggested that he dress my son in a turtle neck, I knew John’s murderers had slit his throat.”

Jackie’s words sliced my heart in half. Although I’d been attending several different grief groups over the past fourteen months and heard things that rendered me reeling, what Jackie said sucked the breath from my chest.

My lament began as soon as the key was in the ignition. “I’m not cut out for this, God. What am I supposed say to a mother whose son was brutally beaten and left to die? There are no words for that kind of pain! I haven’t even been a mother, let alone one who had to pick out clothing and a casket for her slain son.”

Once I calmed down, I remembered that during the worst times of grieving my brother’s suicide, it was the moments of shared silence that brought me far more comfort than words ever could. During my drive home after group that night, I flashed back to three significant scenes of profound consolation during my grief journey.

The first took place within a day or two of receiving the news that my brother had taken his life. In the midst of unfolding mayhem, I had to fly from my home in Florida to my family in California. I don’t even remember how I managed to book a flight, let alone board a plane. What I remember is the friend who drove from her home near Chattanooga, Tennessee to the airport in Atlanta, Georgia just to sit with me during my layover. For three hours Micki Ann sat on the floor of the terminal with my head in her lap, while I bawled all over her blue jeans. I don’t think she said more than a handful of words and yet her presence conveyed deep comfort to my grief-stricken soul.

The second scene took place the night after that when my prayer partner and her pastor-husband came to meet with our family. As soon as I got out of my car, I fell into Colleen’s arms and buried my face into her winter coat. She held me there on the driveway of my sister’s house in the crisp moonlight. For how long I do not know.

The third scene took place six months after Jay’s death, when I returned home after scattering his ashes. It had been an extremely difficult trip. Not only did family and friends gather to carry out Jay’s wishes, but on that very same evening we were to release his ashes, my grandmother suffered a heart attack. There was something surreal about racing down the freeway toward the emergency room, with Jay’s ashes sitting in a picnic basket on the backseat of the car.

By the time I boarded the plane to return home to Florida, I was a total wreck. It was almost midnight when I landed. Shuffling numbly toward baggage claim, I glanced up and there stood a friend from my Grief Share class. Becky’s outstretched arms beckoned me to come toward her. We caused such a scene that after a few minutes, the security guard handed us a box of tissue. A beach towel wouldn’t have been big enough to mop up my tears, many of which were shed because I couldn’t believe Becky was there. Little did I know that she would be there for many other tearful times to come.

In each of these three encounters, hardly a word was spoken. Instead, it was the sacred silence of these three friends that spoke most deeply to my soul. I don’t understand how or why this is so, but I know it to be true: Silence speaks at a volume only the grieving soul can hear.

So, given what I’d experienced, why did I feel compelled to find an appropriate response when Jackie spoke about her son’s murder? Although my intention was to comfort her, any words I might have said that night would have been nothing more than a pacifier for me. How quickly I’d forgotten that my outstretched arms will always say far more than my words ever could. And that oftentimes in the face of tragedy, the way to speak most profoundly into someone’s suffering—is to say nothing at all.





Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. ThroughInverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at


  1. 7-29-2013

    Dear Penny, You are a inspiration for all of us! Grief is one of the hardest things we will do. Your story reminds me of what the disciples of Jesus and his closest family & friends must have felt after he died and was buried. Utter hopelessness…. But complete joy as they carried on his ministry! You have been in trusted with much my friend, and you can use all of it in your ministry to others who are grieving! May God bless you with faith, hope & love overflowing! Hugs sister! Denise

    • 7-29-2013

      Denise, thank you so much for your words of affirmation. You are a rare gem and we love you and Mark so much.

  2. 7-29-2013

    Dear Penny,
    Thank you for your insightful and loving blog. I too have lost a precious son to overdose. The beautiful friends who allowed me to just cry without giving me words of advice, were healing. I often refer to those “angels” as “God with skin on” and use that in describing the love I felt.
    I am sorry about the loss of your brother and grandmother.
    Please know that to go and silently hug other people in grief is a gift. I am so thankful you are awake to and willing to do this!!
    Blessings to You!!

    • 7-29-2013

      Annette, thank for taking the time to write. It is always humbling and comforting to “meet” another person who has lost someone in this same way. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I try to consider the pain my mom and dad experience in losing one of their 6 children to suicide. I appreciate your thoughts…as a mom. Thankfully, my mom received Jesus into her heart as a result of all this. And, my Grammy fought back and beat that heart attack! (Last night, she sent her ever first text at 92 years old.) Bless you, dear sister. May God’s hope invade your journey at every turn.

  3. 7-29-2013

    Loved the title and content of this wonderfully written article. Thank you, Penny, for reminding us of the importance of silence when someone’s heart is breaking. For all of us who have had our world turn upside down it helps to remember how to give back to others.

    • 7-29-2013

      My precious friend, thank you for responding. In so many ways, you are my hero. Love you.


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