Say the wrong thing

hand offering

hand offeringI’m a natural-born worrier. Through the course of my life, I’ve worried about the future, people I know, people I don’t know, my poor abilities as a child newt keeper, my poor abilities as an adult houseplant grower.

I have worried many times about what to say when someone I know has something bad happen. There are the big events, like death or a dangerous diagnosis. But the small ones can be overwhelming too. A job loss, a disappointment, a breakup after weeks of hopeful dating.

In my worry, I used to keep silent.

Now I dare to say the wrong thing.

What is the right thing to say after he finds out he’s HIV positive, or she receives the words from the doctor: aggressive and malignant? What to say when someone miscarries again or grieves a loss that seems unbearable?

It’s all going to be wrong, really, because there are no words that can do what we want for our beloved ones. We want to heal them, cure them and give them long, full and happy lives.

If only words could do that.

Yet saying anything is better than keeping quiet. Silence sounds suspiciously like rejection.

Say, “I care about you. I’m here for you. I’m ready to stand with you as you go through this.”

Anything we say might not be strong enough. It might not be good enough.

But we have to keep trying. We have to acknowledge one another’s pain.

I used to worry about saying the wrong thing.

Now I try to say what’s on my heart.

Like small porcelain cups of tea, sweetened with good wishes, I offer my words. Sometimes they are the wrong words. I can only hope my loved ones forgive me.


Lord, let the words of my lips
bring comfort. Let them be soft
as angel food.

Give us courage to show
our true pain and strength
to respond to suffering in kindness.

Tell me your thoughts!

Where do you find the words for difficult times?

11 thoughts on “Say the wrong thing

  1. Thanks for the acknowledgement that I can, and do, say the wrong thing. You are right that silence does sometimes sound like judgment, rejection, a verbal blank stare. It helps to remember that the person sharing their hurt is sharing because I am willing to listen, to slow down, and try to hear. At the least, and sometimes the most, people need to know they have been heard.

  2. You are so wise! And I always appreciate the wisdom you share in your beautifully-written blog.
    Here’s a response that I have used many times: You know that I love you. We can get through this together.

  3. I woke up worrying but the warmth of the day eased my way. Thank you for your words that explained something I have not understood before. You are indeed courageous in the stories that you share.

  4. Empathy is so much more powerful than sympathy. Great thoughts, and something I will keep in my bag of thoughts during tough times. Hugs are always good, too. 🙂

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