If you know someone going through a hard time, or dealing with grief, here are the best things you can say to them.
Start with "I know you're in pain." Or "I feel your pain." It's different than, "I know what you're going through" - which puts the focus on YOU. Saying "I know you're hurting" is an expression of empathy - but you're not pretending to know the person's experience.
Also say: "I'm sorry for your loss." That comes from grief support counselor and bereavement minister Patti Fitzpatrick. She says, instead of dancing around the situation, not knowing what to say, "I'm sorry for your loss" acknowledges what's happening in an honest and direct way.
Another good thing to say to someone who's hurting: "I'm here for you." Don't try to fix things - don't try to distract them - just sit there and be with them. Let them talk if they want and just listen.
Finally say, "I'm coming over with donuts at 10am tomorrow." Or something like that. The point is to make a specific commitment to being with the person who needs you - instead of something vague like, "Let me know if there's anything I can do." That puts the onus on the person who's grieving to give your direction.
Another tip on the best way to offer condolences:
Don't say: "I remember when your dad took us on that fishing trip. Man, we had a blast..."
Do say: "Tell me about your father..."
That's all according to Worth Kilcrease, a grief counselor in Austin, Texas. He says, letting the person grieving talk about their loved one is a better coping mechanism than listening to someone else talk. So let the bereaved person lead the conversation. If the person starts to cry, recognize what they're feeling by saying something like, "I know this is tough..." Don't try to relate to it though by saying, "When my dad died..." Let them have their own experience.
And if you don't know the person well, say something – even just, "I'm sorry for your loss." It's not rubbing salt in the wound, it's acknowledging that they're going through something and validating their feelings. And that's what people need. They need to know they have permission to experience these uncomfortable emotions, instead of hiding them.
John Tesh Is a 6-time Emmy winning musician, TV and Radio broadcaster. He broadcasts the Intelligence for Your Life radio and TV shows speaking about topics including Health, Love, Sleep, Workplace and Pets.