By Hilary Scheppers

When tragedy strikes, we don’t know what to say. We feel paralysis around which words to use for comfort. There are silences — there are text messages — and right now, there’s the added challenge of physical distance and virtual worlds.

How do I show you I love you from a distance?

What can I do if you are grieving or in pain?

Recently, I took off to California for a couple of months to live with my sister — because why not? I work remotely so I thought it would be fun to get a break from my landscape in Minneapolis.

However, the moment I arrived, crossing the Nevada-California state border on the I-15 South, a black swirling cloud of smoke from wildfires lined the road. I felt immediate doom. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic along the desert highway, and in that heat, my engine started to stall out.

Please don’t let me be the one stuck on the side of the road here. Completely afraid, I began to pray:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,

The Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women, and

blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners

now, and at the hour of death.

It was touch and go, but I prayed the rosary for the remaining hour. Mary got me to my sister’s house. Thank you, Mary, for protecting me.

In my peak moments of fear, I tend to pray. I don’t know why, but it’s like a knee-jerk response. So as this feeling of doom continued all September—a heatwave, rolling power outages, unbreathable smoky air, not being able to go outside or visit with people— so, too the need to continue praying with Mary.

If it wasn’t tragedy on national news, then it was tragedies on my friend’s social stories or personal texts: my cousin’s friend had gone missing in the Oregon wildfires, a colleague grieved the sudden loss of her mom, and an old friend had a miscarriage.

What do I do or say?

I want to say,  “Your friend will turn up, you will feel better soon…” But it all seems frivolous and empty because I can’t control that. What I can control is my faith, my attitude, and my action.

With this realization, I am changing my words of condolences from what will be, to what I hope for right now: Jesus, be with us now. Jesus, you are close to the broken-hearted. You know our pain, please be with us now. We need You.

For me, I’ve been finding comfort in praying the Hail Mary. If you are seeking comfort too—pray with your friends or family. Pray over the phone or text a prayer to whoever needs it. Ask for a holy presence and peace in the right here and now.