Friday, November 3, 2017

You don't need the right words. You need something that might be easier.

Here is a picture of honesty
I have a greeting card that I like so much, I bought two of them and I hope I never need either.

It says:  I'm really sorry I haven't been in touch. I didn't know what to say. 

Whether you would send that card or not, the person who does is conveying that their sympathy is real, and probably larger than their ability to express it with the "right words." 

I like that. 

It wasn't until my brother died that I learned - from the receiving end - how much less really is more when people are feeling that absent the "right words," they have failed to comfort you. 

I remember being incredibly moved when someone looked in my eyes and said, simply, "You are going to miss him so much."

Because that was true, and the person who said it understood my feelings, more than he wrestled with making me understand his. 

Here are some thoughts about that.

When someone has suffered loss
...or has been hurt
...or is afraid
...or isolated
...or is alone

Don't worry about what to say.
Be able to say nothing.

No one is waiting for you to come up with something. 
No one is going to be disappointed.

No one is going to doubt your depth of feeling.

Don't worry about how well you can describe your sadness.
Be willing to imagine theirs. 
Keep your heart wide open.

Don't worry about the right words.
If you're present and listening and feeling
that's better than many things you could say.

Don't worry about the right actions.
If you can hold someones eyes, someone's hand
that's as right as actions get.

Don't worry about where to stand or sit.
If you are standing with a person in their place of pain
and you can give up the duty of right words
you are where you should be.

Far easier than finding the right words 
is looking into the eyes of a lost person
and saying with the part of your heart that knows: 

"You are hurting so much right now and I am here with you." 

They will hear you.


  1. Love this. It's a good reminder that sometimes you just need to offer a tissue & a shoulder.

  2. This was a great reminder that just being present is enough and also being vulnerable enough to say I didn’t have the words.

  3. Sincerity and honesty, and being there and not being all about yourself but empathizing with the one grieving is not that hard to do but for some it is. I call them self centered emotional cowards.

  4. Thanks, Susan. If you were with this person, would just walking up to them and asking for a hug work too? I love the ability to NOT use lots of words. But to be PRESENT.

  5. So beautiful. Sometimes the deepest communication comes with no words.

  6. Thank you so much for that Susan - I am often at a loss with what to say to someone because I haven't been in that position and don't want to sound trite or dismissive or whatever. It's good to know that it's okay to just be there for the person who is hurting (and that I don't need to try to fix anything!)

  7. I get that, I'm a fixer. Some people I love very much are fixers, too. It's interesting to see this in small children - it starts early!

    I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to find the right words - it comes from wishing to comfort - but I do think from the other person's point of view, our presence means more than we know.