Life throws us curve balls and one of them is our inability to face its end. Unless you’ve lived in a family where processing hard stuff is easy (and I don’t know many of those), you are, like most of us, terribly equipped to deal with difficult emotions.
I know I’ve always cringed when trying to use comfort phrases for someone who had just had a loved one died. I’m talking about culturally appropriate comfort phrases, the phrases of sympathy, which are most of the time just scratching the surface and have nothing to do with some close, more intimate connection to the person in pain.
For example, religious sayings such as “I’m praying for you and your family” may heal a religious person but rub salt in the wound of an atheist who lives with the belief that no amount of praying has the power to make them feel any better.
Of course, it is the benevolent intention for compassion that matters in the end, and most people understand this when someone is trying to comfort them. But it is questionable how much of the pain specific messages can dissolve.
In a way, indeed, we cannot possibly find ourselves in another’s person’s shoes when dealing with life tragedies, regardless of how much we may think we feel them. Even if we have been in the same place, the personal subjective experience of a sad event is unique. Therefore, plain culturally accepted phrases may not be the greatest support we can provide.
Then, why not, instead of focusing on the narrative of the comforting phrase, we focus on the emotion behind it?
Sometimes, the best-expressed comfort is wordless. It consists of silence and physical comfort.
Here are some examples of comfort words and sentences you can use with someone who is in mourning.
These examples contain a level of warmth, deeper intimacy, and a lack of pretense that goes beyond what we are used to showing when a person is mourning.
“Please know that I’m here/there for you know.”
“Maybe I don’t know how to choose appropriate words, but if you want, I can sit with you in silence.”
“While I’m looking for the best words to make it easier for you, is it okay if I hug you?”
“Can I just sit together with you and breathe together rhythmically?”
“Here is a hand/a hug to warm you up.”
A great part of their heaven-sent appeal is vulnerability.
I feel better when I express sympathy in this way because it seems genuine. It brings me in touch with my own difficult emotions and assures me that I can stand together with another person under difficult circumstances and carry a part of their weight.
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