"I remember feeling so horrible when Amy told me her brother was in a car accident," recalls Jessica. "I so badly wanted to say the right thing to her"
"The first time I saw my Aunty Linda after I found out she had breast cancer I said, ‘ You look so good,’ sighs Becca, "as if cancer were a looks enhancer or something. I should have just hugged her."
Words fail us all sometimes. We feel unprepared, unsure about what to say and instead of honestly acknowledging that, feel that we should say something to make things right. Here’s our guide to giving comfort and meaning it:
What to do
Put yourself in the other person’s place. It’s called empathy. What would make you feel better? Probably just a kind smile, a warm hug, and simply saying, "I’m sorry, I feel for you" will do the trick. Even just suggesting a walk together, with no set plan can be helpful.
What not to do
• Don’t try to offer advice, unless you’ve been through a similar trauma. Your friend needs to be listened to and have her pain acknowledged more than she needs to hear your words of wisdom. Even if you’ve been in a similar situation, never say, "I know how you feel." Everyone experiences a crisis in his or her own unique way.
• Don’t feel compelled to be cheery. This is not a time for compliments or empty reassurances, especially if you have no way of knowing what the outcome might be.
• Don’t put your own recovery timetable on someone else. Just because you think someone should be back to themselves, whether it’s after breaking up with a boyfriend or the death of a loved one, comments like "It’s time to get over it" can be hurtful and won’t help. It’s not your place to say that.
• Don’t ignore what the person has gone through and talk about the weather to try to comfort a friend. If someone died, mention a fond memory. If someone is ill, ask how that day was.
Safe things to say
• "If you ever want to talk, please let me know."
• "Whatever it is you need, I’m here."
• “I spoke to my mum. She wants you to know she’s available if you need a wiser me."
• "If you need to be alone right now, I understand. When that changes, just call... anytime."
• "You’re one of my best friends. I care about you so much and feel so helpless right now. Ask me anything."