by Wendy Keller, bereaved mother, blogger, inspirational workshop leader
If you’re feeling pretty good and you know you’ll be socializing with someone who has had a rough year, these are the things you can say…and the things you should not…so you won’t feel awkward, make things worse or upset them.
If you are the one who has had the rough year, forward this to your family and friends.
What NOT to say:
1. Do NOT give them ANY solutions for their life – unless directly asked to do so. Even if you are the parent and the person suffering is your child over 15.
2. Do NOT impose your religious beliefs on them, as in, “Your baby is with Jesus now.” Or “Your Dad is in God’s arms now.” Whether or not the person you are talking to has the same religious beliefs you do, this only serves to make them feel guilty for their grief and makes you look insensitive.
3. Do NOT imply that you know why something happened. “He had it coming to him” or “He smoked all those years” or “If she hadn’t started using drugs…” OR “I told you if you married her she’d cheat on you” or “I knew that was a bad investment.” Just shut up and mind your own business. Even if you’re right, don’t say it. This is the general category of “I told you so” and no one likes to be told that.
4. Do NOT predict or threaten. “If you keep going back to him, he’s just going to keep being violent” or “If you let her run around with those kinds of kids, something bad is going to happen.” Even if you have a crystal ball, don’t say it.
5. Do NOT tell them to be happy for what they’ve got left. Don’t say, “Well, at least you’ve still got use of your arms, be happy for that.” Or “Look on the bright side! At least you’re out of that bad marriage, even if he’s not paying child support”. Or what someone said to me a few months after both my kids died: “Be thankful you’re young and can have other children.” You have no clue what that person is feeling, even if you’ve been through something somewhat similar.
Now here’s what TO say – things that don’t harm, insult, blame, hurt, accuse, belittle or subtly undermine the other person.
Note: If you don’t care enough to NOT say the things above, don’t talk to them at all.
1. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through.” And then be quiet. It subtly acknowledges that you are sympathetic, that you are aware of the situation and that you care. Nothing else needs to be said! If the suffering person wants to talk to you, you’ve just opened the door to that discussion. If they don’t, leave it closed.
2. “I admire your commitment to getting through this.”
3. “I care about you and my heart goes out to you during this time.”
4. “If I can be helpful in any way, I’m eager to do so.”
5. “You look good today.” This one is the best one to say if you are nervous about saying the wrong thing. In other words, avoid bringing it up altogether. It won’t endear you to the other person, but it also won’t contribute more pain.
Here’s what is ABSOLUTELY true about people who are suffering: there are times they want to talk about it and times they just want to forget. There are people they sense they can trust and there are people they know they can’t. There are friends with whom they can share and strangers who want to intrude. Let the other person be your guide. You’ll be showing grace, tact and advanced social skills.
(Did I miss any Do or Don’t statements? Comment on this post!)
If you are the one who is suffering, I invite you to take a free copy of my eBook. It’s my gift of love to you.
(Or get a free copy to give to someone you care about)