We can all reclaim the lost art of comforting someone through a moment of distress. Qualities like gentleness, empathy, openness, active listening are all within us. In today’s world, we just need to be reminded and guided through how to offer words of comfort. Here are some things to consider when communicating with someone who is in the midst of illness or grief.

Offer Advice Selectively and Carefully, If at all.

Rarely, do platitudes and generalization work to comfort a person in crisis. Saying things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Every cloud has a silver lining”  can leave someone feeling unseen, misunderstood, frustrated, hurt or angry.

Try: “I am sorry you are going through this. I am honored you would share with me.

Be Honest, Be Authentic

It’s okay not to have all the answers.  However, in place of not knowing what to say perhaps express that you are at a loss for what to say and that you simply want to offer comfort.

Try: “I haven’t been through what you are going through, but I can feel and see how hard this is. I am listening and I am with you.

Say Less, Listen More

It’s more than okay to sit silently and listen to someone. Sometimes it’s the best thing. In doing so, you make space for them to share their experience. Try not to fill in with your own fears or try to fix their situation. Listening can be the most honoring gift you can give.

Try: “I am listening, I care. I am following you.

If You Don’t Know, Ask

When we don’t know what to say, we sometime say nothing or we try to fill-in with potentially hurtful comments. We don’t acknowledge how hard it can be to find the words in the moment. If you are at a loss for words, try these.

-“Are you okay, talking about this now? I am happy to listen or we can talk about something else.
-“Would you like a visit or do you prefer to be alone?
-“When I said, ‘XYZ’, did that bother you? I’m sorry. I just didn’t know what to say.
-“Is it okay if I update people on the situation? I don’t want to share anything you are not comfortable with.

Offer Help Only If You Are Prepared to See it Through

People offer help for many reasons and with the best of intentions. However, if you say you will come by the hospital, come. If you say, you will bring a meal, please do.  The caregiver and patient are counting on you. If you are unsure if you can help, then it is better not to offer help.

Try: “I’d like to offer assistance and support with a specific way I can help you.

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