A lot of us have been close to someone who just lost a human, an opportunity or some time (Not that those events measure as equal. Nothing quantifies the loss of life.) When these things happen and our friends are grieving our first inclination is to offer words of consolation. To be a source of solace. We mean well, for the most part. We would never want to hurt someone who is already struggling. But, sometimes, things do not come off exactly as intended. And we end up causing even more damage.
I know how you feel
You probably and most likely do not. Even if you think you have gone through the same thing, no two persons are the same. No two experiences are exactly the same. And therefore, no two reactions and grieving processes will be the same. And even if they were, you have probably had some time to get through it to some extent and so, you both are not in the same stage of grief. “I know how you feel” belittles the person’s case. And makes their grieving not unique to themselves.
You should instead say, “I do not know how you feel, but I’m here to help you in any way I can”. If you love the person so much, these words will come off with so much care that they will be relieved and assured that you are there for them.
That is a lot to take in
Way to make it worse! Of course, it is a lot to take in. That is why they came to you with the burden in the first place. This sentence just makes the person more anxious and feel even worse.
Instead, say “Thank you for having the courage to share that with me. I hope you know that I am here for you.” This helps them feel that their problem shared could already be half solved.
You start saying your own personal story
Sharing your personal experiences can be useful when someone comes to you for advice. But not when they are grieving and need to be consoled. And at that point, telling your story either to tell them how their problem could have been avoided or how you had it much worse is just plain insensitive.
Instead, say things like, “How does this make you feel?” Try to make it more about the person grieving and less about you.
Let me know if you need help
In a case of extreme struggle through life, I cannot seem to think of any sentence for nonchalant and exuding more God-complex than this one. It may seem like the right thing to say, but it may make you seem detached and uninterested and make the person feel more helpless. Because they may not want to be a bother.
If you indeed want to help, say this – “Is there anything I can do to support you?”. This is a direct question, that requires a direct answer. With this, the person knows that you definitely will do the things in your power to assist or support them through their struggle.
Life can be very difficult to go through and more so as we grow older. When we are in a position to help and make the journey easier for a loved one, I hope we all get to say the right things.