Offering words of comfort can be a natural response. We, humans, tend to be empathetic and have a hard time standing idle when someone is breaking down. But knowing the right thing to say is not something we are taught in school. We want to offer support, but we have a hard time grappling with grief and suffering.
I have been on both sides of the coin, the one requiring support and the one providing support. After I went through a painful personal struggle, I identified one phrase spoken to me that I never wanted to hear again, “It just wasn’t meant to be”. Saying these words in times of grieving leads to devaluing someone’s feelings, trying to force positivity, or shifting the blame. During your life, chances are good that you will have to comfort someone. When the time comes, please choose your words wisely.
Validate Their Feelings
That statement made me feel like a bottle being tossed in the ocean. That my grief wasn’t valid because no matter what I did leading up to this point, the universe had orchestrated a different and unchangeable ending. Whether someone is going through a divorce, a loss, or any other life-altering event, think before you speak.
The ease of finality in this statement is a cop-out, and it glosses over the true feelings of the one suffering. Typically, the person using this as a comfort tool is at a loss for words. That, or they don’t care to delve into the feelings you are experiencing. If it is the latter, you might want to choose a different confidant.
If you truly don’t know what to say to someone who is mourning, that is okay. I remember thinking, don’t placate me with platitudes, instead just be with me. When going through a struggle sometimes all you need is just the physical support of someone being present and listening. Grief can be very liberating; a good cry may be just the remedy. Personally, I am awful with others’ grief. I often become awkward and quiet when someone cries in front of me. But being a shoulder, albeit a silent one, to lean on is something I can definitely handle.
At some point, you will have a family member, friend, coworker or human being experiencing sadness in your presence. Find something more empathetic than, “It just wasn’t meant to be”. Show some compassion and try to validate how the person is feeling while offering comfort. You need not fix it, you don’t even need to make them cease crying, you only need to be their companion.
Keep on the Sunny Side — Or Don’t
When things do not go as planned, there is rarely a bright side, at least not at the moment. Telling someone “It just wasn’t meant to be” may sound like you are offering hope for the future, but this phrase is frequently unwelcome. No one likes to be forced to see the silver lining when they are still being oppressed by the storm. At such a raw time, I don’t want to be mollified and I don’t want to be cheered up. Just let me feel.
Shifting the Blame
Another reason you should avoid making this statement is that it may actually lead to more suffering. In some situations, when you tell someone it just wasn’t meant to be, in a way, you are taking the onus off that person. Being passed over on a job offer is a prime example. Maybe the chain of events leading up to the rejection could have been altered. The blame shifts from the person’s previous actions and decisions and onto the invisible orchestrator of their life.
Unless you want to be caught in a cycle of facilitating someone’s bad decisions and letdowns, give them some tough love. By this, I do not mean listing everything they have ever done wrong at the height of their despair. Simply, offer sympathy and when the time is right provide them with some loving feedback.
When you repeat this mantra to yourself, you are essentially giving up. You, like a feather in the wind, have accepted whatever cards fate has dealt. This is not a great way to live your life.
Just as when you offer this sentiment to a friend instead of providing valuable insight, internally latching onto this phrase will cause you to miss out on numerous opportunities.
Please don’t use this phrase, whether introspectively or outwardly on your friends.
Words of Wisdom
If you want to offer some words of sympathy, here are some suggestions.
- “I’m so sorry” is simple and heartfelt.
- “I can’t imagine what you are going through if you need anything just let me know” validates their feelings and offers your time, your resources and your company.
- Give a hug, physical action can be more comforting than words.
- Do something practical. Bring them food, set up a GoFundMe, or just listen.