Imagine the following happening to you.
Your teenage son crashed his Jeep into a guard rail and an ambulance is whisking him to the nearest Emergency Room
The surgeon just finished telling you that your 75 year-old father has an advanced case of prostate cancer and suggests starting treatment immediately
You feel a lump while you’re showering. You sure it’s breast cancer.
The roof is leaking again and the savings account is tapped out.
You pick up the phone and reach out for solace. And how often do you hear the following platitude? “I’m sure everything will be fine.”
If I hear that inane phrase uttered one more time, I will consider applying for a concealed carry gun permit and start firing. Just kidding. But it does really set me off.
It’s dismissive of the seriousness of the situation.
It trivializes my concerns.
It belies reality.
It fails to acknowledge my angst.
Instead, wouldn’t we all like to hear:
I’m not exactly sure what is the right thing to say, but I’m here for you.
I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but my ears are wide open.
I’ve gone through something similar. If you’re okay with it, I’d like to offer some suggestion of things that helped me.
So what else can friends do for friends going through an uncertain, anguish-filled time or event?
Acknowledgement. Don’t ignore the topic because you are not sure what to say. Follow up by text, e mail or phone.
Stay with the person’s narrative Listen. Don’t chime in with your own anecdotes. Or activate one-up manship.
Send a note of encouragement with a quote like this wartime musing by Winston Churchill: “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”
Drop off a gift certificate for a little pampering – mani, pedi, massage. Drop off a home-cooked meal, a dozen fresh bagels, or soup and roasted chicken from your closest specialty grocery store.
Keep them company if they wish.
Offer specifics: I’ve got Monday free, what can I pick up at the grocery for you? I’m taking my son to the movies, so let me take yours too.
Praise their efforts and actions.
Let them know they are in your hearts and prayers.
Of course, there are also other grating phrases to avoid:
Buck up. Things could be worse.
Look on the bright side.
G- d only gives you what you can bear.
I’m so upset about your news I can hardly cope.
And most importantly, clamp your mouth shut every time you are tempted to utter that meaningless phrase: “I’m sure everything will be fine.” Because, even if it the outcome’s not stellar, the relationship between you and your friend will still be.