When Colin lost his 2 children, friends didn't know how to react. So he sent an email.

Writer and actor Colin Campbell has had to cope with a level of grief most could never comprehend. 

Four years ago, he was driving to Joshua Tree in California with his wife Gail and their two teenage kids, Ruby and Hart.

"It was a joyous ride, it was a high point for us as a family," he told the podcast Honestly with Bari Weiss.

"It was only 10 or 20 minutes to the house when a drunk and high driver, a repeat DUI offender, going 40 miles [64km] per hour above the speed limit, T-boned us. The point of impact was the rear passenger door. Ruby and Hart were killed basically on contact." 

Hart was 14 and Ruby was 17.

Watch: parents who have lost a child answer questions. Post continues below.

Video via YouTube.

After years of trying to process the unimaginable loss of his two children, Campbell wrote the 2023 book Finding the Words: Working Through Profound Loss With Hope and Purpose based on his experiences with people not knowing how to help with or handle the family's grief.

In the book, he tackles the misconceptions around grief, and what grievers actually want from their loved ones. In particular, he takes issue with how people say 'there are no words' to a person who has been affected by death. 


"Oftentimes that phrase ends a conversation," he noted. "The griever needs to process this loss... they need to talk about it to understand it." 

Colin spoke about the sort of people who opt to not contact friends and family after loss, as they assume they want to be alone or avoid being reminded of what's happened. "It's an easy cop-out," he said. 

"People in grief need community, we have plenty of alone time. And it's not like someone can remind us of our loss because we haven't forgotten it."  

Colin recalled one specific moment with a friend who "loved us and loved Ruby and Hart" but had a tendency to say something on repeat that irked the grieving couple and, Colin says, added to their suffering.

"She had a habit of telling us about our grief rather than asking us... she was telling us what we were feeling and it drove us crazy," he recalled on the podcast.

"We had these debates – 'what do we say to her? It's so weird. How do we bring this up?' It's so specific." 

So the couple decided to send her an email. "We first thought maybe we'd avoid them forever but then thought, she's a beautiful friend and she's trying to help us." 

They began with the subject line: "A little heads up (and we love you)."


"There's something we wanted to bring up that we thought might be easier in an email," they began. 

"We know you want to love and support us and we feel loved and supported, but we've noticed you have a tendency to tell us how we feel or describe our situation in vivid and poetic terms that are hard for us to hear. For example, instead of telling us that being at our friend's Shiva [a Jewish mourning ritual] must be devastating, please just ask us how we feel."

The letter ended with the couple saying they sent the email to avoid blindsiding her and wanted to speak further. 

Thankfully, the friend handled the email gracefully and gratefully. 

Colin became emotional as he read his friend's response, as she wrote, "I really appreciate you telling me that. I'll do my best to not narrate your experiences. I've never walked with a friend through something like this and I'm sure to fall flat on my face several times. But I really appreciate knowing when and why that is so," she wrote.


"It means a lot that you told me."

The friend said in a follow-up conversation that she felt they must value her friendship to send such an awkward email. And since the email, their friendship has been stronger than ever. 

"She has since been a beautiful support through our grief," Colin added.  

Colin also spoke about another quandary he had with his friends and family's response to his grief.

He said that people should listen and offer comfort rather than trying to reduce their pain. "Attempts to take away the pain is where you run into trouble, like saying, 'At least he had a good life' – that might sound like a nice thing to say but you're ultimately minimising the pain," he said.

Other sentiments like saying "they're in heaven now" also don't always have the intended effect.

"Even if you believe they're in heaven, you've still lost them here on earth," Campbell said.

In researching for his book, Campbell found that simply asking someone who is grieving about the one who died goes a long way – as does not shying away when you feel uncomfortable.

"Everybody I had talked to was desperate to talk about the people who had died," he said.

"That was the key to grieving: being engaged in your pain and talking about your loved ones to other people." 

Feature Image: Instagram.

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