First, may I commend you for looking for guidance on finding the right words of comfort for sympathy. Yet, I also have wondered when I write this pages if too much focus on saying the "right thing," causes people to be more anxious and thus avoid their bereaved friends.
I cannot tell you how many bereaved folks have experienced the sudden vanishing of friends. I know it is hard. I have been through difficult grief, and I still find it difficult to know what to say to others. As hard as it may feel at times, it is important to remember that just staying present is really what is needed most. Okay, on to guidance for words of comfort for sympathy...
The following poem offers a great amount of wisdom in a few words. Those interested in learning to offer sympathy would do well to spend some time pondering it.
Don't Tell Me that You Understand
Don't tell me that you understand
Don't tell me that you know,
Don't tell me that I will survive
Or how I will surely grow.
Don't tell me that this is just a test
That I am truly blessed
That I am chosen for this task
Apart from all the rest.
Don't come at me with answers
That can only come from me,
Don't tell me how my grief will pass,
That I will soon be free.
Don't stand in pious judgment
Of the bounds I must untie,
Don't tell me how to suffer
And don't tell me how to cry!
My life is filled with selfishness,
My pain is all I see,
But, I need you now,
I need your love, unconditionally.
Accept me in my ups and downs,
I need someone to share,
Just hold my hand and let me cry,
And say, "My friend, I care."
By Joanetta Hendel
The challenge of looking for words of comfort for sympathy is that too often there really are no adequate words to offer. It doesn't take long to say the important words of "I care," so we feel caught in trying to fill the silence with something else. Our society has a tendency to fill all silences with words or other background noise.
So the challenge is, "Are you willing to be counter-cultural and sit in a silent space with your bereaved friends if that is what they need?"
Others will want to talk, so let them lead the conversation where they need it to go. So read the advice that is offered and then be gracious with yourself--we've all said things we wish we could take back. Most importantly, be present, stay present, and care.
Struggling to find the perfect sympathy gift? So was Renee Wood, so she designed her own. Read my interview with Renee, Founder of The Comfort Company.
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