Dear Dr. Degler,

The mom of one of my child’s classmates recently lost a baby shortly after birth. She had testing while she was pregnant and carried her child to term knowing her baby would only live for a few minutes after delivery. I don’t know her really well, but we have enjoyed chatting several times while volunteering together at our kids’ school, and our children have been to each other’s birthday parties.

I found a book that really helped me through my grief over losing my teenaged sister this year, and my question is, would it be appropriate for me to give this mom a copy of this self-help book? It’s not specific to a particular kind of grief or loss and not a specifically Christian book (we aren’t close enough for me to know where she’s at spiritually but this book doesn’t say anything non-biblical). The grief book is really relatable and hit every single thing I was feeling with a whole chapter about the dumb things people say to someone dealing with loss. But, I also don’t want to cross a line or make her feel like she has to address her grief immediately or anything. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.


A concerned mom


Dear Concerned Mom,

You’ve got a good heart that has been tenderized by your own losses. I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” You want to offer to your friend a self-help book that was comforting as you grieved. Grief is such a wretched thing. You’ve got to feel it to heal it, but it can be wretched to feel the myriad of ways your life is different now that someone you love or a dream has died.

Thank you for your excellent question. Some people enjoy receiving self-help books while others most definitely do not. I appreciate your sensitivity to both the content and the timing of offering a self-help book to someone who is grieving or going through a difficult time. A friend with cancer told me that she didn’t appreciate it when someone gave her a somber self-help book on death while she was undergoing chemotherapy. She said she would have preferred a funny book to make her laugh during her treatments.

Perhaps the best approach is to send your friend a card, text, or email saying how much this particular book helped you on your grief journey, but that you do not want to presume that it would be welcomed by her at this time. Then you could tell her you’d like to offer to buy the book for her, now or at a future time, if she will let you know if and when she might be interested. You can also tell her that she can decline your offer with no further explanation and your feelings will not be hurt at all. You might also extend your offer to include buying her a book of her choosing if she isn’t interested in your particular choice.  Presenting your offer by card, text, or email will prevent her from feeling the “in-person” pressure we often feel to say “yes” to an unwanted offer so we don’t appear ungrateful.

If she declines your offer abruptly or perhaps doesn’t even respond, please don’t take it personally or let that keep you from reaching out to your next friend who goes through a loss. One of the ways we honor someone else’s loss is to give her lots of grace when she is too overwhelmed and weary to respond politely. But I bet you already learned that having gone through your own significant loss this year. Grief is wretched, but it can also dramatically deepen your compassion.



Jennifer Degler, Ph.D.

Psychologist and Life Coach