"The hardest part of having a dying child," says Harold Kushner, "was the feeling of isolation. Because people don't know what to say, they tend to stay away.

"It's hard to know what to say to a person who has been struck by tragedy, but don't feel that you have to say something that no one has said before. People who are troubled need sincerity, not profundity. Give them sympathy and compassion and the reassurance that they are a good person and a cherished friend."

When someone asks, "Why is this happening to me?" says Kushner, "that may not be a question as much as a cry of pain. You don't respond by explaining God to them. You respond by reaching out and hugging them and caring.

"Anything critical of the mourner -- like 'Don't take it so hard' -- is wrong. Anything which tries to minimize the mourner's pain -- 'She's better off now' -- is likely to be misguided and unappreciated. Anything which asks the mourner to disguise or reject his feelings -- 'We have no right to question God' -- is wrong as well.

"You can be there," he says. "And you can care. You can say, very simply, 'I feel bad for you, you're a good person who doesn't deserve this bad luck.' "