How to Give Comfort in Tragedy

One of the hardest things we are ever called to do is to comfort someone who is experiencing tragedy.

Following a fire truck on the way to an emergency

When tragedy strikes a loved one, we can bring comfort with the right words and actions.

Generally, we do a much better job of rallying around the bereaved after someone dies than we do supporting someone who has suffered a debilitating and permanent injury.

Secretly we’re thinking, OMG, I’m so glad I’m not you. Better you than me. At the end of this uncomfortable visit I can walk out of here and put your terrible life out of my mind for a while. And if it’s too terrible, I can move on to other friends, I’m not stuck like you.

Sometimes, standing at the side of the hospital bed, we’re tongue-tied. Or, we blurt something out only to recoil in embarrassment for having inserted a foot in our mouth. Even worse, sometimes we speak and blithely go on, happily ignorant of the fact that we have caused more pain. In all of these cases, we have just widened the gulf that now separates us, the unaffected, from the person whose not-so-bad-up-to-now life has changed forever.

Before you find yourself standing in the hospital room of a double amputee saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” check out these seven phrases that bring comfort in a time of tragedy. Before there can be cheer there must first be a reckoning with the new reality.

Until we acknowledge the circumstances that brought our friend or loved one to this hospital bed and this permanently altered state, our words are hollow. Worse, we have created a chasm that cannot be crossed when what we wanted to do build a bridge of sympathy and support.

The next time you’re faced with comforting someone in a tragedy, try one of these phrases:

I can’t imagine what you’re going through.

Unless you’ve suffered the same loss or been given the same diagnosis, you haven’t got a clue. Acknowledging this truth opens the door for acknowledging the tragedy.

I know this is a painful time.

And I’m not just referring to the morphine drip with the handy self-administer feature.

You don’t have to be brave today.

I can accept your feelings just as they are right now.

How are you feeling?

If you’re feeling terrible, please tell me, I can hear it. If you’re feeling positive, please tell me, and let’s celebrate it.

I’m here to listen to you.

Let me give support to you. I am not here to trade tragic stories or engage in one-upmanship about how my life or the life of someone I know is worse than yours.

 We don’t have to talk right now.

I am comfortable with silence and know that my presence may be enough for you right now.

My heart aches knowing that you are suffering.

When I acknowledge what you are experiencing, I show my respect for you and for your truth.

Fortunately for us, we can show our sympathy and support with just a few well-chosen words. Whether you use one of these phrases or others, what’s most important is to show your support for the situation as it exists today, without trying to move the other person’s emotions to a place that is more comfortable for you. Paradoxically, when we recognize and embrace the painful feelings, they become easier for us to handle. The feelings are not less painful, but our ability to handle them grows just through our acknowledgement of them.

Life Is Honest, Open and True: We want to avoid emotional pain whenever possible. But, when we stay in the moment with another who is in a tragic situation and use words that connect and comfort, we forge a deeper relationship.

What are your go-to phrases when you want to build a bridge of understanding and give comfort? Tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!

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