Monday, March 31, 2008

The Best Thing to Say

Lately I've been been in a lot of situations where I've been face to face with people who are hurting:
  • A young woman who has had a miscarriage ... after having told all her family and friends about her pregnancy
  • A man who is facing the (for him) uncharted waters of divorce and who is having to deal with emotional and financial issues at the same time
  • A woman whose only sibling is dying ... 3,000 miles away
  • A man whose brother is dying by inches because of problems caused by his third -- and final -- organ transplant
  • A woman who is scared out of her wits because her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer
What do you say? What do you do? Each one of these situations really kind of beggar the imagination. Neither you nor I can truly imagine what it must feel like to be any of those people. One expression that should be wiped out of existence is, "I know how you feel."

Sometimes people can unintentionally hurt when they're trying to help. Sadly, we all can describe times when we've heard or been on the receiving end.

Painful Things to Say to Someone Who's Hurting

  • I know just how you feel.
  • It's God's will.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • He (or she) is in a better place now.
  • You'll find someone new.
  • I never liked her (or him).
  • I went through the same thing.
  • Um, it's been months since that happened. When are you going to get over it?
  • You're young. You have plenty of time to start a family.
Even worse is having someone come at you with the idea of hugging you better. Sometimes you're just too raw for any human touch to be comfortable.

But you know what? I know how I've felt when I've had to deal with my own challenges. (To protect the innocent and guilty, I won't go into detail here. Suffice it to say, I've had plenty of challenges ... more than some, fewer than others.)

Compassionate Things You Can Say to Someone Who's Hurting
  • I'm so sorry.
  • How can I help you?
  • Here's my phone number and email address. Please get in touch whenever you need me.
  • Would you like to talk about it?
  • If it would help, I'd be happy to [make specific suggestions here: make some phone calls, do some research, pick up some groceries or medical supplies, watch your children, take you out for a meal or to a movie, etc.]
  • I'm making a big dinner tonight. How about if I put a little of everything into some containers for you so that you won't have to think about cooking tonight?
  • I read a book about this when I went through something similar. Do you think you might be interested in reading it?
Sometimes the best thing to say is to ask a question: What do you need? How can I help? Would it be helpful if ...?

But sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing at all: a light touch on the arm or back and a loving look can go a long way.

It's Not All About You ... It's All About Them

We've all been on the receiving end of life's slings and arrows. We owe it to ourselves and our friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers to show be compassionate when someone allows us to see their pain. We don't need to partake of it, but we can let them know that we see it and wish we could help ease their burden.

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