When someone we know is undergoing a difficult situation like a loss of someone, property or even pets, being diagnosed with a deadly medical condition, or recently experienced a traumatic event, the human and emotional part of us would like to extend help in any way we can. Usually, the first thing that a person does is to offer verbal consolation. However, there are times that our words of sympathy can do more ill than ease their pain. In this article, we will discuss the therapeutic and nontherapeutic statements whenever we express sympathy to someone.
What to Say and Not to Say
- Silence. Yes, don’t say a thing. This is an effective behavior especially if you are physically present with the sufferer. If you have nothing to say, probably because you are also in shock about the incident or you can’t find the right words to speak, it is best to be just silent and allows your body gestures do the talking. Hold their hands, put your arm around the person, hug and cry with them are all ways to show that you are consoling them.
- Offering self. Let the person know that you are available to talk. In the early stages of grief, some would still be demonstrating a strong persona and would be denying the situation. The depression and the reaching out for help will come later. You can either say the following:
“If you need to talk, just call or message me. I’m always here for you.”
“Let me know if you need someone to talk to.”
“In case you need to talk about this, and if you’re ready, you can always count on me.”
“I am with you in this time of sorrow. I’m here for you.”
- Acknowledging feelings. Be careful when you acknowledged someone else’s feelings. Others would say I know what you are going through right now. Even though this can be empathetic, most would have a negative perception of its meaning. How can you say that? Have you lost a husband? Were you diagnosed with AIDS? You have a stable job and even got promoted and you say you know what exactly I feel right now? These are common responses that people say and feel whenever they hear such message. So your purpose of showing sympathy can turn into a disaster. Instead, it is safe to say “This must be hard for you.”
- Talk about the person/pet. If the person is experiencing a loss of someone or a pet, you can either offer to talk about a memory that you shared with them. If you don’t know the person or pet, you can also say that if the right time comes, you are willing to learn more and get to know them better. This can pose a positive emotional feeling to the sufferer as they are able to recall and share some beautiful stories about their loved ones.
5. Offer possible solutions. Now, this can be tricky. When you provide some interventions or suggestions, like for example helping the person find a job or recommending them to a counselor, make sure that you are with them all the way. Don’t just say, I know some that can help you with this situation, give the number then disappear. Make proper coordination and introduce the person formally to the support that you are recommending. In this manner, you are acting as an advocate for the person and helping them find solutions to their current problems.
Behaviors That Matter Most
In offering sympathy to someone who is experiencing grief and loss, the best and important thing to consider is your presence in the turbulent phase of their lives. Nowadays, we can send messages in several convenient ways like posting messages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. For a more personal and formal way, we can send sympathy letters or cards electronically or thru post. Calling the person is also an acceptable manner as the behavior can impart a deeper connection between individuals concerned.
Sending flowers is still very much practiced but we suggest that this should be coupled with a call or a personal note to the sufferer. It can get too generic and frigid-like if no other forms of contact were made after sending a flower to the involved party. Lastly, it is best to follow-up with the person after some time on how are they doing. Sometimes, we forget to keep in contact after consoling them briefly. A short phone call or even a coffee invite would not hurt in this case.