Sympathetic things to say, and to avoid saying, to someone just surviving

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Healing words in unthinkable loss from wildfire survivor Elizabeth Van Tassel

Recently a friend in Texas asked me for advice about how to approach sending a sympathetic note to her dear friends who had been flooded during the recent hurricanes. I knew immediately what she had in mind – she wanted to help or comfort them but really didn’t want to say the wrong thing. “You’ll know just what to do, Elizabeth, since you’ve lost everything before.”

I never wanted to be the “disaster girl” or someone who had to become resilient, but she was right. I had some ideas to help her with the note and care package.

Following a disaster or great loss, a friend will appreciate your effort – even if the wrong thing comes out. Just don’t stop trying or think they want you to disappear. People process grief differently but everyone appreciates a genuine offer of help or comfort.

Years ago following a wildfire that took our home and all our possessions, my husband and I decided that we didn’t want to crumble every time someone called us a “victim”. Instead, we knew we had to choose to find a path through the darkness that surrounded us, living in temporary homes, with borrowed furniture and barely enough clothes was humbling. Taking help from others taught us a lot. Yet the blessings of finding true friends, and our own ways to handle difficult challenges, has stood us well in all kinds of circumstances.

So what can you say when you see that friend – the one who’s lost it all – and your heart’s thumping, and the words seem tangled on your tongue? Here’s a helpful meme with some shortcuts to consider.

Elizabeth Van Tassel, resilience expert, offers key prhases to use and loose when trying to help someone who's recovering from loss.

Most of all, just don’t give up. And give them grace to find their path through this challenging time. Your love will speak volumes.

Here’s some ideas from my blog about how to reach out and help families in their time of need.

The #LetResilienceArise series has been on hold while getting resources to those in need after the floods and wildfires. We’ll look forward to hearing from Author Sara Ella and Rachel McDaniel in the coming weeks, as well as some magical posts for teens and tweens with ideas for activities, places to visit, and maybe even some fun jewelry from Hawaii.



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