What do you say when you know someone that has been diagnosed with cancer or another fatal illness or lost someone recently? It’s hard to know. You may want to cheer up your friend, but how? Many years ago, I lost a spouse to cancer. The things people would say sometimes hit home and were a comfort, other times I could’t believe how insensitive someone was. Did they really say that??? Oh goodness, the thoughts that went through my head! People even told me I was lucky that my spouse died. It was way better than divorce! Wait a minute, really? After a while, I realized that people were trying to connect with me. They were trying to find a way to conceptualize my experience through their own. So, then, what do you say? Is there something to say that will be helpful? For me, the best thing anyone said was: “I don’t have any idea what you are going through, I have no frame of reference at all. I want you to know that I am here for you. I am wiling to listen.”
When someone is hurting, telling them not to hurt won’t work. It just tells them you don’t think they really hurt. What is needed at these times in life? Someone willing to listen and be there. Someone to come up with concrete assistance. I knew someone that went and cleaned her friends toilets for a year after her child died. It was something she didn’t have to think about for a year. Maybe it is bringing over dinner on Tuesday next week. There is a myriad of ways we can be helpful to our friends and family that are hurting. The one thing that people in crisis can’t do easily though is know what help to ask for. Your concrete suggestions are more likely to be accepted and also appreciated.
The attached article talks about what to say or not to say to a cancer patient. I found it relevant to someone experiencing the loss of a loved on as well. I hope this will help you be there for someone that needs you. If you would like additional help to work through a crisis or loss you may want to call a therapist close to where you live. I work with families and individuals and have an office in Fort Collins Colorado.