It seems when people we know suffer a loss or a tragedy, a lot of us have absolutely no idea what to say to bring comfort.
For example, when your beloved companion animal dies, friends with no companion animals in their lives may say, “You can get another one.”
Or my personal favorite,
“It was only a cat (dog, rabbit, ferret, parakeet, snake, whatever).”
When I hear that, I want to smash the speaker in the mouth. My companion animals are my family. How dare you diminish their importance.
When I was younger and struggling with my own undiagnosed depression, I was one of those people who did not know what to say to others suffering a loss. I was so focused on my own misery it was difficult for me to feel true empathy for the sorrows of others. I said a lot of stupid things.
Here’s another of my favorite insensitive things to say:
God will never give you anything more than you can handle.
To me, this is total bullpucky.
First, I’m an atheist; I don’t believe in a god.
Second, if I did believe in a god, I wouldn’t believe in some divine puppet master who capriciously flings down suffering on some and good fortune on others just to see how they’ll handle it.
Third, whether or not there is a god, this is a condescending and patronizing thing to say to someone in pain. It doesn’t help at all. Don’t say it.
Through the years I have learned a lot about things to say and not to say to people in times of trouble. Sometimes I still don’t know what to say. In those cases, I’ve learned the best thing to say to suffering people is nothing at all, but just to be with them.
Sit with them. Give hugs. Hold hands. Take walks together. Let your presence show you care and you’re there for them. And if they want to talk, listen. Just listen, and don’t try to talk them out of their grief with platitudes. Just be, and let your presence and time work its healing.
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Peace and Joy,