“When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my friend’s cousin who died of lemons.”

When someone we care about is suffering a loss — whether it’s a death, diagnosis of a major illness, getting fired, the end of a relationship, etc. — our first instinct is often to try to make it better, and help solve their problem with our suggestions, questions, and ideas.

When someone we care about is suffering a loss — whether it’s a death, diagnosis of a major illness, getting fired, the end of a relationship, etc. — our first instinct is often to try to make it better, and help solve their problem with our suggestions, questions, and ideas.

Emily McDowell

The truth is, you can’t fix a loss, and you don’t need to. Your friend with cancer doesn’t need or want you to send her links about the miracles of wheatgrass, or come up with a mind-blowing spiritual insight that will give her a new perspective on life. The most supportive thing you can do for someone in a hard time is to be willing to show up, stay present, and listen. And fortunately, learning to listen is also a lot easier than coming up with the elusive “right words” that will never come.

Focus on their feelings, not just the facts.

Focus on their feelings, not just the facts.

If your friend’s dad had a heart attack and is in the ICU, it’s natural to want to know what happened. In other parts of life, getting the full story is important so you can figure out how to react or solve the problem. But when your goal is to be supportive, your primary concern should be to find out how your friend is feeling. Instead of asking a ton of clarifying questions that can divert the conversation away from the emotional hard stuff, try asking, “How are you doing with it?” There’s always time to fill in the facts later.

Emily McDowell


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