What Exactly Should You Say and Not Say When Someone You Know is Suffering from a Loss?

Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love.

So, this is an episode that I’ve wanted to do for so long.

It’s something that I’ve personally struggled with and I have a feeling some of you may struggle with it too. So, here’s what we’re talking about what exactly should you say and not say when someone you know is suffering from a loss or an illness or, God forbid, something devastating happens. In other words, how can you truly comfort and support someone in a way that is genuine and that’s not trite or, worse, unknowingly offensive.

Here’s the thing, these days we’re all communicating so often via text and email and social media anytime there’s news. So, it can get easy to rely on the sad emoji from Facebook or the hug symbol, right? Now, I wanted to do this episode because I feel like all of us, we all have so much more love and compassion in our hearts than often we’re able to express simply because we don’t know what to say, or worse, we’re totally afraid of saying the wrong thing so we say nothing, which isn’t good.

So, while the following list isn’t comprehensive, I really believe it’s going to get us started and my hope is that you’re going to join in and help crowdsource even more wisdom in the comments below. So, let’s get started with what to say and what not to say if someone shares a scary and potentially life-threatening diagnosis. So, I asked one of my best friends in the whole world, Kris Carr, to help me out since she was diagnosed with cancer well over 10 years ago. And here’s what Kris recommends.

First, don’t say, “I know exactly how you feel” because, here’s the truth. Unless you’ve been through the same experience, you probably don’t know exactly how someone feels. And most people know that you’re trying to empathize, but others may feel like you’re minimizing their experience. Number two, don’t push your opinions, especially if someone is overwhelmed. So, when you’re constantly bombarded with advice, it’s hard to tap into your own intuition. And depending on the circumstance, it may be just more appropriate to say less and hold back and listen more.

Number three, don’t share that you knew someone with the same problem or issue, and it didn’t turn out well. That’s a big no-no, because it will not bring you guys closer. Number four, do reach out and offer a loving shoulder to lean on and, even better, try and plan something fun to do together. You know, when you’re going through the fire, a little sunshine really helps. And number five, do keep checking in.

While it’s wonderful to tell your friend or your loved one to reach out if they need anything, they probably won’t. So just keep checking in and proactively offer specific support. So, for example, “I made a huge pot of veggie chili and I’ll be in your neighborhood at 5pm. Can I drop some off for you?” Next up, let’s talk about a few do’s and don’ts for when tragedy strikes, like a fire or a natural disaster or something that completely wipes out somebody’s home or their environment or their business. So, these incredibly insightful tips are from Dr. Andi O’Conor. This woman’s house burned down not once, but twice and she’s written about it extensively on her blog called BurningDownTheHouseBlog.com. Here’s what Andi says. Number one, don’t start with the words “at least,” as in “at least you’re alive” or “at least you have insurance.” Meaning don’t try and force gratitude on the person.

Number two, she says don’t say “it’s just stuff” or “it’s just money” or “it’s just” anything. That dismisses the enormity of what the person is going through. Number three, don’t make it a discussion of God or faith or religion, even if you think you’re sure of the person’s religious or spiritual belief. So, for instance, if they go to your church or you’ve heard them mention God, don’t say something like, “God only gives you what you can handle.” Remember, an event like this can really rock someone’s faith and their world, so don’t assume that they’re open to ideas like it was all meant to be, especially at this time.

And number four, the only do from Andi, is make sure you say these eight words: “I am so sorry. How can I help?” Finally, let’s cover some do’s and don’ts when someone loses a loved one. We found some incredible guidance from legendary grief and loss expert David Kessler and from Joanna Goddard of Cup of Jo. Here’s some of what David shares. Don’t say things like he’s in a better place, there’s a reason for everything, it was her time to go, she was such a good person, God wanted her to be with him. And don’t say be strong. Now, on the other hand, do say things like this: I’m so sorry for your loss, I wish I had the right words, just know I care, and I’m always just a phone call away.

Cup of Jo has a post specifically about writing sympathy notes, which she posted after she lost her brother-in-law Paul to lung cancer. She offers these extremely helpful dos. So first up, do send a snail mail card. Not that online is wrong, but especially now in the digital age, an actual physical card can be something so special. It’s tactile and you can literally hold those words in your hand and reread them again and again. She also shares do offer to help in specific ways.

So, saying, “anything I can do for you?” is nice, but actually offering specific ideas like “come over for dinner and we’ll grill for you” makes it a lot easier for people to say yes. And, finally, do tell stories. The more, the better. You can share your favorite memories of the person who died or talk about how they had an impact on your life. The Cup of Jo post says, “the grieving person is thinking about the person 100% of the time, so there’s nothing that you’re going to say to make her sadder. Instead, the stories you tell are going to make her feel more connected.” As we wrap up this episode, a few reminders that we all need to hear.

So, no matter what goes wrong, the most important thing that you can do is be with that person, like really be there for them without judgment and without expectation. Listen to them. And if you’re physically together, hold their hand and really be by their side. So, let’s close this episode with a tweetable. Never let your fear of saying the wrong thing, stop you from saying something. Now I would love to hear from you.

If you have some other do’s and don’ts to share from your experience, please put them directly in the comments below. Now, if you do share a don’t, do so with love and compassion. Because, after all, most of us genuinely want to be supportive but we can all make mistakes, especially if we haven’t been through that experience ourselves. Now, as always, the best conversations happen after the episode over at MarieForleo.com, so head on over there and leave a comment now. Once you’re there, be sure to subscribe to our email list and become an MF insider. You’ll get instant access to a powerful training I created called How to Get Anything You Want. You’ll also get some exclusive content, special giveaways, and personal updates that I just don’t share anywhere else. Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world needs that special gift that only you have.

Thank you so much for watching and I’ll catch you next time on MarieTV. The most important thing that you can do is be with that person, like really be there for them without judgment and without expectation. Listen to them. And if you’re physically together, hold their hand and really be by their side.

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