Sending thoughts and, err, stuff
May 3, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

ComfortFilter: Looking for a better way to express sympathy and support than just "We're keeping you in our thoughts." Can't just be for close loved ones.

I've had several friends/family in various scrapes recently and have been struck by how hard I find it to come up with a good but brief way of expressing my sympathy and support and maybe some comfort. "We're keeping you in our thoughts and prayers" expresses this pretty well, except that unfortunately I don't particularly believe in prayer, so it's insincere and without that part it just seems short and incomplete. "Sending good vibes" is similarly fuzzy, since it doesn't mean anything to me. "Sending a hug" works, sort of, but isn't always appropriate and still seems sort of trivial. Likewise, "our thoughts and love are with you" is sometimes not appropriate, for instance if a business colleague has a death in the family.

Any suggestions hivemind?
posted by Wretch729 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have friends who are Buddhist and they have used "Keeping you in our hearts and thoughts", which expresses a similar sentiment without the inference of prayer. (Although this still may not be appropriate for business associates...)
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:21 AM on May 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

"I'm thinking of you during this difficult time."
posted by jacquilynne at 10:25 AM on May 3, 2012

"My best wishes to you, your family and friends as you navigate the next weeks and months."

"Best wishes" sounds kind of like you're hoping they have a trip or good luck on the honeymoon, but it's true; I do wish them the best. (I usually include an "I'll be thinking about you" kind of statement to make it sound more situation-appropriate.)
posted by Madamina at 10:27 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: God, what a timely question. I struggled with just this dilemma recently and ended up saying "Wishing you and your family hope and strength in the days to come."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:29 AM on May 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

For business associates and such, I generally just say "my sincere sympathies". True, it's not very creative but it is simple and to the point.
posted by Eicats at 10:30 AM on May 3, 2012

"I'm so sorry for your loss. May you take some comfort in knowing that you and your family are in the thoughts and hearts of many."
posted by Sal and Richard at 10:35 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is very comforting for people to be asked about their experience and how they are doing. If you say, and mean it, that you'd be glad to help out, that means a lot, too.

If someone dies, I try to spend time thinking about the positive qualities that stood out about them, and talking about those in sympathy cards. Or if I don't know them, I may talk about why this relationship is such a special one and so hard to lose.

It is also more "real" to respond to hearing about this by commenting on why this seems like a hard thing, and what strength or positive quality you seen in the person who is experiencing it, or why you admire the way they are handling it.

Lastly, you may want to try at times just saying exactly how you feel yourself. For example -- it makes me feel teary to hear about your situation with [x]. Or, I was devastated to learn about [x] and have been hoping you are OK and have the help you need.

We all tend to retreat into platitudes, but those comments that are kind and right from the heart tend to be the most comforting, I think.
posted by bearwife at 10:38 AM on May 3, 2012

Find one you like and stick with it. Also, offer to do something useful for the afflicted person. I'm a big one for running the kids to McDonalds for a couple of respite hours, or bringing over some lasagna for the family (if the afflicted person is undergoing chemo or something.)

Also, if someone is undergoing care for an illness, I find a care package of toilet paper, soap, etc, can be most welcome in that it means that there are fewer trips to the store for these types of items (this works best with very intimate friends.) My girlfriend is still giving me grief over the industrial sized box of Bisquick I gave her after her mastectomy. Hey! Pancakes!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

For a business colleage, I would use something like "My deepest condolences to you and your family," which is probably cliche but literally means "I feel sympathy for your grief."
posted by muddgirl at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: Condolences and sympathies are appropriate in the case of a death, but when the situation involves a devastating health issue or accident, or other awful life changing situation, the wording is trickier to come up with. What's a better way of saying "Wishing you the best possible outcome given the circumstances"?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:54 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I am the awkwardest person on Earth, so I have thought a lot about this and prepared some "stock" comments just so I don't stand there looking like a hooked catfish. Here are some of mine.

"My thoughts are with you; let me know if there is anything I can do to help."

"My thoughts and sympathy are with you and your family."

"I was so sorry to hear of your loss. We'll never forget Jane's kindness and good humor. Deepest sympathies to you and all of Jane's family."

For Other Bad Stuff (like a grim health issue), I think something like "I was so sorry to hear this news. Is there anything I can do to help? You will be in my thoughts" works.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:01 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: Previously and previously-er.
posted by John Cohen at 11:01 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

And please keep in mind, it's not about you and how you feel or what you believe about the words you are saying. It's about making the connection, being sincere about it, and following through if you are asked to.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:04 AM on May 3, 2012

If it's something involving a process, including recovering from an illness or accident, I usually say something like "My thoughts are with you and I hope [appropriate outcome, e.g., your sister's speedy recovery/building a new home/the peace you find from giving up alcohol] exceeds your most optimistic expectations.
posted by carmicha at 11:13 AM on May 3, 2012

My standard responses that vary according to situation and familiarity:

"I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through a difficult time" or "I'm so sorry to hear about your loss."

"I can't imagine how difficult this must be."

"My thoughts are with you [and X/and your family], and I really hope everything works out ok / I really hope things turn around for the better soon."

"I hope that X's procedure goes smoothly and that X has a speedy recovery."

"Please let me know if there is anything at all that I can do to help."
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:43 AM on May 3, 2012

Side note: I have a colleague (who has many, many other issues with things such as "life" and "others") who sincerely believes that it's inappropriate to write anything but your name on a sympathy card. She tells us this, loudly, every time we send one around. "Nothing you write is the truth!" she squawks.

I don't know how this could possibly be the case. I AM thinking of this person. This person WILL be in my thoughts. I DO wish them the best in the coming weeks and months, as they try to navigate the countless bureaucratic and emotional hurdles of loss.

The fact that something sounds cliched and overused shouldn't disqualify you from saying something. The important thing is to say something, period.
posted by Madamina at 12:09 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: There are lots of good suggestions above regarding what to say and how to say it in the moment. I agree that sincerity is key.

Consider also that lots of people express sympathy/support right away upon notification of a tragedy but often forget about follow-up. I think it's important to check in with the person later as well, with a "How are you? What do you need? Let me know how I can help." kind of message. The rest of the world moves on pretty quickly, but for the one grieving, it can hurt for a very long time -- knowing that others haven't forgotten can really help.
posted by Boogiechild at 1:29 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an atheist and I struggle with this too. I've had some friends go through some tough times (one had a husband who passed away from cancer and another has a sister with advanced breast cancer). Saying I'll keep you in my thoughts just seems lame in these circumstances.

I finally ended up sending a message saying, "please let me know if there's anything I can do to help." Because although there's really nothing I *can do, I'd like them to know that I'd dropping everything in a second and come help if there were something I could do. If I had mushier friends, I might say something like, "let me know I can help even if its just a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. "
posted by bananafish at 2:01 PM on May 3, 2012

A friend of mine who'd suffered the sudden loss of her husband later reflected that it was best to hear "I can do x, y, and z to help you" over the "Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help." She said that she was so reeling from the loss that she barely knew what day it was, much less how to organize herself to figure out what needed to be done and ask a person to do it.
posted by parilous at 3:15 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Wishing peace to you in this [difficult] time."
posted by ramenopres at 6:20 PM on May 3, 2012

An acquaintance of mine had a great line (if it could be called that) for a death: "My heart is heavy for you."

Another thing that is good: "I am so sorry to hear this."

When things are rough but expected to improve: "I'm so sorry to hear this. I hope things will start looking up soon."
posted by elizeh at 7:29 PM on May 3, 2012

I have always been deeply moved by a Midsummer Nights Dream quote that was used in a play programme in memory of the director's murdered sister: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little lives are rounded with a sleep".
posted by Sebmojo at 7:49 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I'm actually really irritated by the phrase, "Let me know if there's anything I can do" because it seems a way to get off the hook from really doing anything while still appearing sympathetic. People are very reluctant to actually call someone based on such a generic offer. It's preferable to just do a "I'm so sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you" etc. and leave it at that, or if you really want to do something, take the time to think of and then call with a specific offer such as taking the kids, bringing over food, etc.
posted by Jandoe at 7:40 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There was an amazing article in the NYT (searched and couldn't quite find it) about the inadequacy of that phrase "is there anything I can do?" Don't put the burden on the person who is grieving or shell-shocked. Offer to do something concrete, or come by, drop off food to go in the freezer and leave immediately.
posted by canine epigram at 10:00 PM on May 4, 2012

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