What People Mean to Say When the Wrong Words Come Out

All of us have either said something we regret, or been on the receiving end of remarks that were supposed to be helpful, but turned out instead to be hurtful.

So why do insensitive and downright dumb things pop out of the mouths of people who truly mean well, especially in response to serious health situations? The short answer: human nature.

First Things First, Avoid These Words

In our article 7 Things You Should Never Say to Patients or Caregivers, we offered tips on how to keep foot and mouth a fair distance apart.

As a reminder, pinch yourself—really hard—if any of these words ever begin to tumble from your lips:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “This is God’s plan.”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  • “At least it’s not cancer.”
  • “Just think positive thoughts.”
  • “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
  • “At least you have one healthy child.”

Why Do People Say Such Things?

If you’re reading this, you may be looking for an answer the age-old question, “Why do smart people say dumb things?”

The truth is, people almost always mean well. Most CaringBridge users would probably find this to be true. But sometimes when people are trying to say they care, or that they feel really bad about what is happening, things get muddy. Here are a few reasons why someone might put their foot in their mouth:

  • They may feel nervous about making you feel worse
  • Lack of experience talking about hardships or loss
  • They may be suffering from their own hardship and struggling to cope
  • They think cliché sayings are what people want to hear

The most important thing you can do in an uncomfortable situation like this is to remember that no one is perfect, and even the closest people in our lives may just need some guidance when it comes to what to say.

Translate the Message

Claire Schwab with friend.

It is often helpful to look for the sentiments that lie behind clumsy expressions. What are people actually trying to say when the wrong words come spewing out?

Probably they are trying to say they feel terrible, and would do anything to take away pain and suffering. It’s just not easy to say. CaringBridge users have said that nearly every mangled communication about a health situation is an attempt to express one or more of the following:

  • “I care.”
  • “You’re so strong.”
  • “I have faith that you’re going to get through this.”
  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “My story that is similar shows I have a glimmer of what you may be going through.”

The next time someone stumbles, try mentally replacing the words they say with one of the previous sayings. Remember that the last thing they’re trying to do is make things worse for you.

When others lack the verbal skills to comfort you, this is an opportunity for you to step in and be honest about what you need to hear, and also about what you don’t. The more comfortable you get with sharing what you need, the more others will be able to give it to you.

Care to Share Your Own Tips?

Please add to the conversation by sharing in the “Comment” section below how you may have translated the actual meaning of something that has been poorly said.

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  • Lorrie

    Slogans came to My mind dealing with Alzheimer’s since I was exposed to them in Alanon 20 years before.

  • A.

    It fucking sucks that you have to go through it.
    Pain is very lonely feeling. But I’m here to help to make it as bearable as possible.

  • Bryce Cummings

    1. Sometimes saying nothing is best. Just a warm smile, a comforting hug and “I love you”, is all that is necessary.

    2. Don’t ask “What can I do for you.” That puts the burden on them. Look around for something to do. Such as: carry out the garbage, empty the dishwasher or simply sit still and listen.

  • Karen Eichelberger

    This is a very informative and helpful post. Thank you so much for these wise words of advice on how to be a much more helpful and caring loved one who is trying to show support and compassion to their loved one.

  • Abigail

    I am surprised that several of the negative coments above are those referring to God. As a religious person dealing with breast cancer, I am not offended, but supported by these references. The effect of what you say depends very much on your relationship with that person and the tone you are using., so it is important to take into account who they are. When my friends remind me about God’s plan, it gives me comfort that there is a purpose to what I am dealing with and encourages me to find meaningful opportunities to use what I have gone through to help others.


    For a friend close by, ” I am here for you. I will do anything I can to help you and your family while you are going through this. I will call you to find out what you need for me to do. ”
    For a friend who lives away, “I am holding you close in my heart through your battle. I hope you can feel my virtual hugs and know how much I wish I could be there.” Then I send a care package via mail with a card.
    For anyone who I may not know well but am acquainted with who is not expecting anything but a kind word
    (I was a cancer patient 25 years ago, so I know) any encouragement helps. “You can do this. ” I also tell them that people will say the most outrageous things because they don’t know what to say.
    If they live close by, carry over a bowl of fruit, or an easy, healthy snack, or something for their children, write a card and tell them how much you care about what they are going through. Call and check on them. Imagine what you would hope someone who do or say to you.

  • Teresa

    When someone tells you a loved one passed away…or when you tell someone you are in pain and miserable…the last thing I want to hear is “Oh…I’m so sorry.” It is so common and meaningless, most of the time. I know they don’t know what else to say. People ask me how I’m feeling all the time. I’ve gotten to the point where I just say I’m fine. If I tell them the truth…I get exactly what I said above. No you’re not sorry. Anyone have something better to say than that? Thank you.

  • Floyd Rhoades

    EMPATHY! whatever you say or do, let the person know you care about how they are feeling and coping with the situation and that you are “walking alongside” them in thought and prayer. the “….I know what you are going through…” response is not helpful unless it is received as authentic and sensitive. One of the worst things to say is “I know what you are going through” when it is not received by the other soul as credible. For example, if the person you are consoling has just lost their spouse or child or are going through a divorce, and you have never been through such an experience, it is disingenuous to say “I know what you are going through….” And even if you have experienced a similar event to the one they are experiencing, it is important to realize that they are most likely “processing” that experiencing that situation differently than you did. Often your presence is the most important thing, especially on an ongoing or intermittent basis. That depends on your relationship with them and the emotional, spiritual or relational support that they need.

  • Michelle Kaschak

    An acquaintance drove me to/from a procedure at a hospital that is very close to me but, they would not let me drive myself home. When she pulled in my driveway, I tried to escape from her vehicle w/o feeling lk I had to invite her in. Well, she insisted on coming into my house to use my bathroom. She said it was urgent, I couldn’t refuse. I led her into my home w/ severe trepidation. She used my bathroom, came out & looked me straight to my face & said “Michelle, you need to get a handle on this, you’re a hoarder”!I was mortified & humiliated + I know I’m a hoarder. It is something I work on w/ my therapist.How would you respond to this awkward situation?

  • Carroll B Simpson

    Way back in the early 1960s when my family lived in Europe, I had a close German friend. Her mother had died. The father was very authoritarian and would whip his two daughters (12 and 14? at the time) so they had marks on their legs. (The father–because he was a young man in Germany during WWII–had been a NAZI). Anyway, when I returned from my summer vacation, I learned that my friend’s father had died. I didn’t know what to say to her: so I said nothing. All these years I have thought about how that was the wrong thing to do. I regret my insensitivity to this day. This article offers several good suggestions. Thank you.

  • Ron Tranmer

    May I sharer a couple of my poems?With CourageThere has never been a timeI have quit, or ran awayfrom a challenge or a battleand I won’t begin today.With courage I will facemy foe, and fight with dignity.And, God be willing, I will beatthis cancer that’s in me.Cancer feeds off human fearand grows amid despair;But often disappears when foughtwith courage, faith, and prayer.______________________________CancerYou have no friends among us.You’re an enemy to all.You cause suffering and pain every time you come to call.You attack at your discretion,no matter young or old.You have respect for no one.You are cruel, mean and cold.As you invade my body,you will find my spirit strong. I’ll fight with might, day and night,regardless of how long.Many, through the power of faithand prayer, have beaten you.Unless my God wants me home,We will beat you too.Ron Tranmer

  • Emilie Bova

    When my daughter died nothing anyone said was quite right. But at least I knew people cared. Saying nothing is worse.

  • Hayley M.

    I try to *do* something *practical* for my friend who is going through grief. There are some very mundane, repetitive tasks that, when a crisis comes (any kind of crisis), we just wish would STOP for a while so we could just focus on getting through the crisis. Sure, some people thrive on keeping busy with the busy work. But those who don’t, might just need their litterboxes cleaned and Just Don’t Have The Energy. The way I see it, “No one can take away the pain, so maybe I can help take away some of the pain-in-the-butt.”

  • Jan Beekman

    To me, “I’m so sorry,” means “I care.” But I agree that saying “I care” is a better choice. Thanks for pointing that out as an alternative that is more positive.

  • Disciple Charles Emery Serdinak

    It is GODS plan! I would never not say that! Please dont email me ever again! With your lies!!

  • Michelle

    People going through a crisis often feel embarrassed to ask for help. Offering help first frees them to let go of some of the pain. Just say, “How can I Help?” and mean it. Be prepared to follow through.

  • Natalie Foley

    As a chronic illness sufferer who has been housebound for 12 years, much of it bed bound, and unable to receive visitors because of the illness, my existence has been a very lonely one. In that time one person wrote to me and said, “I miss you.” Knowing that I was missed and remembered warmed my soul. My illness had been such that I could not maintain relationships. I was just too ill. Everyone knew I was ill but the severity broke down relationships. Living detached from society and regular human contact is beyond discouraging. Even when people aren’t able to stay in contact because they are too ill, three simple words can mean so much. “I miss you.”

  • Sandy

    I have been doing anesthesia for over 25 years. I’ve had the privilege of helping many patients with a cancer diagnosis. I have been in the situation of addressing cancer patients in all stages of their illness. In my opinion, there is, and never should be, cookie cutter phrases. That being said, I realize the intention of this article is only to be helpful. We are all humans with intelligence and emotion. Lead with your heart. Trust your gut. Those are actually both cliches but also very true. Your relationship to the person is unique. The day they are having, just like the day you are having, us ever changing. No one can tell you what to say or think. Just be you.

  • Brian Bunt

    There is nothing wrong with telling someone who is battling a life-threatening illness that you are thinking of them and praying for them. You just need to mean it, and prove it by communicating with them regularly during their battle. Non-religious persons may not be as convinced as you that your prayers will help, but they seldom are turned off by knowledge that someone who loves them is praying for them. Mostly, we just need to show others that we truly care about them. Don’t avoid talking to them out of fear you may say something awkward. If they know you love them, they will overlook it.

  • Julia Siemens

    Very well explained….Helpful Practical

  • Maryellen Horrigan

    As a 3-time chemo patient, I would add one more no no. Please don’t start every sighting with a gloomy “How do you feel?” I don’t need to be constantly reminded that I am at risk. I am seeking Normalcy…whatever that means. “Good to see you” is so much more positive.

  • Jeff R Burnham

    Do more, talk less? Avoid cliches like “My thoughts and prayers are with you.” I think it’s what people say when they don’t know what to say. Maybe better not to say anything and give a hug. It’s tough. I never know what to say.

  • Susan W Moenkhaus

    I think this article has very good information that supports people trying to help people who are suffering. A lot of people avoid friends who are in need of comfort because they don’t know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing. In this current, very anxious time, with the Covid 19 virus among us, I probably won’t hug someone, which will be hard not to do.

  • Susan W Moenkhaus

    I like the above suggestions. Depending on the situation I say, “(name), I’m so sorry this is happening/happened to you. I’m holding you in my heart.” Then if appropriate, ask if they need meals, kids driven anywhere, a grocery store trip, driver to appointments, a listener. Of course I pray for peace or recovery for them, and I follow up within a few days to see how they’re doing and what they need. My personal motto is “Show up,” and I work very hard to do that.

  • Michael Perry

    At my wife’s Memorial Service a friend came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and said “I’m sorry I don’t have any words”. That was one of the kindest things that was said to me that day and I still remember my reply ‘You don’t need words, you came up and put your arm around my shoulder, that says you care about me and you cared about Carol, that’s all that matters’.

  • Sharon McDonald

    My niece died not too long after my son died. I saw a friend who had just found out. All she did was just wrap her arms around me and give me a long hug. When she was finished she said to me, “that’s all I can say”. Those were the only words spoken between us and I have never forgotten the comfort that gave me.

  • Dr.p.c.

    This info should be published more widely Thanks

  • Joe B Gemmill

    As a three-time survivor of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I am saddened by the caustic and critical remarks by a West Coast person. Seems like part of this nation looks for anything negative and spews it out, totally missing the point of the Caring Bridge article.

  • Chrisie Richards

    Very helpful! I was born with My foot in my mouth!!??♥️???

  • SoCalGal

    This is a PS to my comments below. After re-reading your Tips above, I found reason to continue my commentary. While you were advising how to ‘do it better, kinder’, I see a myriad of words which showed neither from you; i.e. hurtful, insensitive, downright dumb, punch yourself – real hard, clumsy, spewing out, foot in mouth, stumbling, lacking skills, poorly said, and finally the recipient is instructed to ‘share what they need”. Really? Do you honestly think someone who is struggling with extreme health issues has a clue what they need other than ‘take away this illness’? I see your Tips as being contradictory with insensitive words used throughout.

  • SoCalGal

    Interesting article. While I understand the point you’re trying to get across, I don’t think there is a ‘right’ way or a ‘wrong’ way to respond in any scenario. We’re each individuals, hearts and minds don’t need to be reminded of the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to do anything. If someone is sick and we are completely devastated, say so! If your heart is broken, say so! No less-than-genuine way will fit a sad or shocking situation. Schooling a person on the right or best way to respond is against human nature. There’s enough to think about during a trauma, reacting correctly isn’t one of them! After caring for my husband on his (twice) cancer walk and our daughter’s (twice) breast cancer walk, I cannot even remember what our friends said. All I know is that they cared enough to call. If you’re in close proximity to the patient, offer to cook, shop, chauffeur. And if you’re scared or worried, well say so!

  • Carol

    I don’t know whether this is insensitive. I sincerely offer my condolences and add “may your sweet and precious memories bring you comfort as you grieve.” If I know the person’s religious standings, I’ll add something pertaining to/acknowledging that person’s faith.

  • Melissa Bruno

    When I saw this in my email I thought I said something wrong to someone. This whole article is unnecessary. This whole new thing thing about everyone worrying about feelings getting hurt is pathetic. People know others have good intent if they are there posting in the first place. As long as they are trying and present, you have a gift and someone else by your side. You can’t choose their words.

  • Patricia H. Fischer

    During my cancer journey I was blessed when people would write me a note or text or call just to say, “I want you to know that you are on my heart and in my prayers today and that I care. I’m here if you need me.” Others brought gift cards for my family to eat out, or gas cards to help with going back and forth to the hospital. We have, since our experience, brought a basket full of healthy goodies for the family of the patient — cheese crackers, nuts, raisins, granola bars, small boxes of cereal,etc.

  • Marjory Singher

    It’s important to remember that everyone doesn’t believe in Christianity, God or heaven. I think it’s ok to offer “Is it ok if I pray for you?” But grief is NOT the time to impose your beliefs on someone.

  • Jan Ellwood

    Thank You…. when your Dear friends are suffering it is so hard to know what to do or say that might comfort them

  • Evelyn Vanden Boogard

    After my 5th miscarriage a co worker said-why so sad? You never met your baby!

  • Liz Estler

    A heartfelt “There are no words” to which can be added “to adequately express what you’re going through. I’m so very sorry. “

  • Liz Estler

    A heartfelt “There are no words” to which can be added “to adequately express what you’re going through. I’m so very sorry. “

  • Ellen Brant

    I feel and acknowledge your pain. Embracing you with positive energies and love and prayers to stay in the moment. I’m always here for you.

  • Dalton Reno

    Have Faith as you go through this.God is with you now and will be there every step of the way.

  • Rev Susan

    I support your strength .

  • Dolly Spinelli

    After reading all of the comments I can only add what I sometimes tell my friends when there is a loss…I hope it is something good to say…? Based on my faith, and what has helped me with loss, I say , ” They are always with us in our heart and they just don’t live here anymore…they live somewhere else…in Heaven” It may not be the correct thing to say in everyone’s eyes, but if you believe in Jesus it is simple because that is what he told us…You have to admit, it is a comforting thought….We should feel pain when someone passes away…and we shouldn’t make anyone feel that they have to move on and get over it when they are not ready…A HUG says what we can not say with words…..God Bless….

  • Fran Cox

    I hope each day at your new rehab has made you stronger. We are all praying for a complete healing. I will try to come this week to see you. Love, Fran

  • Anne Llewellyn

    My husband wrote the posts on Caring Bridge that kept our family and friends updated as I went through my cancer journey. He is a ‘to the point’ type of person. His messages were concise. He received so many notes of thanks from those who read them. Years later, I go back and read the post and am grateful for him as well as those who sent notes. You are offering such an important service. Thank you for offering it.

  • Bruce Frykman

    Keep it simple, nothing you can will mitigate their circumstances. It’s enough for the sufferer to know that you are aware of their situation and are sympathetic.

  • Sandra Grossman

    My brother died of AIDS. Kaposi’s Sarcoma destroyed his lungs and covered areas of his body with lesions. The two most shocking things said to me were; “At least he didn’t suffer.” “Anyone who dies of it now, isn’t it their own fault?”

  • Meryl Trahan

    “They are in a better place”The person has passed out of the suffering into heaven; therefore , they are now enjoying no more suffering. It should make the survivors feel better, but sometimes it’s better to say I’m so sorry that you’re going through this grieving.

  • John Pascale

    Forgive me if I have ever said anything to offend you. I want Jim’s healing and I pray earnestly for him. God bless, John

  • Mary Ann Olson

    How about “ Let me know if you need anything “They mean well but I think it is better to actively DO SOMETHING that might help …. baby sit , make a casserole , get their prescriptions etc.

  • June Frank

    The comment that bothers me the most is when people say “I know what you are going through. I lost my husband 37 years ago. Was 32. Had a 5 yr. old daughter & was 6 mos. pregnant. Last Halloween , lost my daughter 41, from breast cancer that metastised to her brain. She left behind her husband, 17 yr. son, 5 yr. daughter, & 8 yr. son. The comment that I mention in the beginning has been said a few times to me. The people that said it had not experience the lost of someone close to them. Therefore, they don’t know, what a person is going through.

  • Robin Broumley

    One of the most helpful things a friend who lives far away has done for us during the past difficult year is occasionally send a text that says something like, “I’m thinking of you and hope things are going okay.”

  • Dalton Gregory

    To Ellen Alias —- your simple, brief statement touched my heart Ellen. Maybe I have a partial answer to your question. I have had the disease you mentioned and I find that its such a frightening ‘word’ that people shrink from its mere mention. They immediately feel the finality of its all to common outcome and know that at the very least there is a fight ahead. The patient often becomes the comforter . . .

  • Nickie Miller

    Showing up strong with empathy is an action that speaks louder than words.

  • Anne Cowling

    Of the replacement suggestions, I think I only like ‘I care’ and ‘I’m here for you.’ The last three seem to be more clumsiness i.e. ‘You’re so strong.’ puts pressure on the person to be strong. What if they’re having a bad day?’I have faith…’ The reality is that some people don’t get through things. Is that the elephant in the room?’My story….’ We’re not talking about ‘you’ right now. In those three, the first two are trying to give encouragement, and the third is meaning to be empathetic. Maybe those should be the replacements? Thanking person for their caring, constancy, and encouragement may be a way of directing the conversation where you need it. If they are a good friend you could give them some ideas about what you need to hear like: ‘Thank you for listening to me grump!’

  • Christine

    A simple little letter does a lot… add some memories of a good time, say that you care and TEACH your children to do so. Young ones can draw a flower, teens can write a note, young adults can show love and care in one sentence. Believe me, it works . Even a short recording of a baby’s laughter is precious.Silence from the ones you care to hear from is the worst treatment. Do not report to someone in pain “she/ he asked about you” , tell them to do it in person. Communicate, even if it is sometimes clumsy.

  • Joann loughlin

    Years ago when I had pericarditis seven years and had to be in bed much of that time, a friend said to me: “Joann, if you had more faith in the Lord, you would be healed.” Even though I didnt believe her, I felt so guilty and unworthy. I cried for several days.

  • Joann loughlin

    Years ago when I had pericarditis seven years and had to be in bed much of that time, a friend said to me: “Joann, if you had more faith in the Lord, you would be healed.” Even though I didn’t believe her because I did believe in him, I felt so guilty and unworthy. I cried for several days.

  • Sue Chambers

    Susan Baldwin buying books for your friend who lost a child was a beautiful gesture. I received books when my child died. I didn’t read all of them but I’m sure you felt you needed to do something. It’s hard to know what is the right thing and there is no wrong thing when you are trying to be supportive and kind. Some books I read years later. There is no recovery from the loss of a child. No one can understand the pain of this experience if you have not walked this road in life…I pray that you never will. But don’t ever think you did the wrong thing. In the case of the loss of a child you can always say “ I’m sorry” . People do what they feel called to do. Some people cook food, bake bring flowers. Parents want to know that their child is not forgotten what happens is that we all move one with our life but the loss of a child freezes us in time. You learn each on our own timeline to put this pain in a place where it doesn’t overwhelm you. For each person this is a different amount of grieving to reach this place…for most it takes years. So I try to acknowledge a loss with a “ thinking of you card” that cheers people up saying maybe something like I know this is a difficult time for you and just thinking of you. Maybe mentioning that you know they will always miss their child. Some people never forget even 25 years later. But for the parents the pain is never less if you let yourself go back to that day. From all other loss you can recover especially with the help of friends. You sound like a wonderful person. And while one one commented that you should not mention God… I don’t ever think that sharing your faith is wrong. I am sad for people who do not have faith of any kind. It sustains you when things seem out of control. I have studied science but there are many things science can’t explain like the miracle of creation of a human being. And sometimes someone will say something to you that may not make sense or may not seem nice but years and years later you still remember their words. You don’t always get to know what effect you have made in people’s lives but God or whoever you believe Him to be will bless you because of it.

  • Sue Chambers

    I have experienced some of the above comments. Many times people don’t know what to say. Life has a way a becoming a great teacher as you live your life. Ever notice if you have been pregnant how everyone tells you their story. Even recently when some asked me about my children they said “ Were you one of this people who kept trying until you had a girl ?” And our youngest son is now 19. But after having 4 boys I can’t tell you how many times I was asked this question. And often we get asked “ are they all yours after we tell people we have 7 children. People see things from their own perspective and I’ve had to remind myself that they just don’t know better. If you lose someone especially a child you find that people you thought were friends go away and disappear out of your life because they can’t handle difficult news. Sometimes just the simple words “I’m sorry” are the best acknowledgement and then the response of thank you let’s you move on. It takes a long time on so many fronts to understand that no one is here forever. Kindness is one of the best gifts you can give anyone and it doesn’t cost anything. It is often helpful to first talk to someone else when wondering what to say to someone who is truly suffering or facing what may be the end of their life. Just don’t go away. We all need our friends…they are truly the people that make us smile in our life.

  • Doris Sage

    I know I can be a true _ _ _ _ in finding the right thing to say, but considering how well you are taking all that you’re experiencing, you show so much courage and you inspire me to do more in my life.Thank you for being You.Silence is good and just being there with the individual holding their hand sends a comforting message.Reading “I Am There” from James Dillet Freeman is beautiful and soothing.

  • Marsha Wackerly

    I was at a funeral and said to the grieving mother that I know how she must feel. She lashed out at me saying I had no idea (I was 30-something at the time and not experienced with expressing sympathy). I was devastated and to this day 30 years later I will never ever say those words and I still feel terrible about the incident. A simple “I am so sorry for your loss” gets the job done when expressing sympathy to someone you do not know well. I am a non-god person so when anyone expresses words of support that include god it means nothing to me and may even get a bad reaction so keep god/faith out of the conversation if you do not know what the person believes.

  • Enrique

    Be present…with courage…be present!

  • Katy

    Don’t forget to lean on your support system and I’m part of it and here for you.

  • Ellen Elias

    How do you explain people totally cutting you off when they find out you have cancer?

  • Francesca Hagadus

    Do NOT start talking about your own experience. When my dad died, I heard countless stories about loss of others’ parents. I just stared at them. I am at an age when we are losing our parents. I get it. But I needed to feel my own grief and needed to hear my friends’ say “It’s so hard”, or “He was a great man. I know you will miss him.”

  • Tina Brown

    I have thought of poorly said comments as an attempt to be caring, never intentionally to hurt. Though some of the poorly said things increased the loneliness of my pain, especially the “you are strong” comment. Like all the burden is on me. Without support. “ I’m here for you” helps. Is it ok if I call you every so often? “I hope you will call me anytime” (if you really mean that). “If I can’t get to the phone I’ll call you back ASAP”

  • Susan Baldwin

    Don’t ask how you can help someone, because most of us are not comfortable in asking for specific things. Just Do It. I like ideas of buying groceries, cleaning the house etc. I also agree that you should never make parallels between what you have been through, or a friend has gone through because every situation is different. It’s not about YOU – its about the person suffering from whatever is going on. Many years ago a good friend lost his teenage son in a tragic accident, and I bought him books about grieving and loss. I’m not sure it was a good thing to do and I have not done it since.

  • Elizabeth Ballew

    “How can I help?” “I apologize in advance if I say the wrong thing, please forgive me.”“Would it be ok if I pray for you, would that help?”“Please call me if there’s anything I can do for you, even if it’s small.”“How are you feeling today?”“Can I give you a hug (or virtual hug)?“I don’t know how you’re feeling. I’m here to listen if you’d like to talk.” “I love you.”

  • B. Roberts

    I like David’s thoughts. Keep it human. I have a friend that will bring food, tidy the kitchen or make the bed, etc. She doesn’t ask what to do. She scopes out the situation and gets it done in a quiet and efficient manner. She is a wise , caring and giving friend.

  • B .

    I like David’s thoughts. Keep it human. I have a friend that will bring food, tidy the kitchen or make the bed, etc. She doesn’t ask what to do. She scopes out the situation and gets it done in a quiet and efficient manner. She is a wise , caring and giving friend.

  • matthew09

    I agree, what is the right thing to say…? sometimes less is better, if you are face to face, maybe a hug is the best and just a whisper of I love you or I’m praying for you…., I just wrote to someone, I hope I said the right things!!!

  • nancykeathley

    I probably have said something and felt mortified after,, in the face of cancer and death, ima dot on the wall of life. all i can think of is “ Im pulling for you in your fight! i love you ❤️‼️

  • Susan Berenson

    I always feel that doing something helpful with love in your heart and eyes is better than anything I can say.

  • Terri

    I understand the intent of this article, and appreciate several points it makes, like encouraging people to look at the sentiments behind things people say that may come across clumsy to us, but I beg to differ that it is always “dumb” or “clumsy” to tell people that God will not give us more than we can handle. I know that when I am facing difficult times in my life, it is comforting to be reminded that God will not given me more than I can handle. In fact, my all-time favorite verse in the Bible that says just that. (I Corinthians 10:13) I would much rather someone Remind me of that promise than to tell me that I am strong when I know good and well how weak I am. When what I am going through feels like more than I can take, I need to know there is a power beyond myself that is watching out for me and can help me bear it. I find that in God, and am comforted when people remind me that He is filtering my trials through His omniscient filter of infinite love, and that His shield of omnipotence will protect me from trials that are greater than what I can handle in His strength. So when people remind me of that promise, it brings back a flood of gratitude for the many times God has brought help just when I needed it, in ways I would never have expected, when I trusted Him to get me through.

  • Judy Zimmerman Walter

    I have been a victim of people, who truly care, not knowing what to say so, they say something totally inappropriate it might be true but, that doesn’t make it appropriate for the moment.. I have found the best thing to say is, I am so sorry and my thoughts and prayers are with you as you find your way through this. …

  • Bonnie Webb

    Shauna, we are friends of your Mom & Dad. We are praying for Bob, U & the family. Thank you for keeping us updated on your family’s journey. We will always keep praying for y’all. Such a beautiful family. Bonnie & Michael Webb.

  • David R Witke

    Some of us — growing numbers of us — would prefer that our comforters stay away from religious messages and expressions. Please keep it human. Unless you know my beliefs, please keep yours to yourself. If you want to pray for me, please do it privately while realizing that you are doing it for yourself, not for me. Please don’t impose on me your opinions about an afterlife. Especially don’t tell me that god shows his love for me by imposing this test of grief, or that I should be honored because god has made me a cog in his grand plan. This is not a time to goad me into religious debate nor to impose upon me the responsibility of excusing you because you “meant well.” Please keep it human.

  • N. Sellers

    Please refrain from discussing your problem or experience with illness as a comparison. One ups man shop is not appreciated during a difficult time.

  • lorrie tuck

    I am a “doer”. After being a nurse for almost 40 years it is just “my way” of helping. Plus I admit I am a classic Type A with a little OCD. So, I always offer to get groceries, prepare and freeze meals, do the laundry, go to the post office, vacuum the floor, dust, change lightbulbs, clean the bathrooms, etc. Or anything else that someone with a serious illness may not have the strength to do, or frankly, may not care if it gets done right away. However, when I found myself fussing about over my sister, especially in her last year, I realized that “doing all the tasks” was not always a help-for HER! It actually made her realize even more that there were things she could no longer do. So, I had to change my “OLD HABITS.” Some of the best days we had were drinking milkshakes while watching old westerns or the food channel on TV. We would get into movie trivia, or decide to cook something new we saw on TV. We also spent time looking at OLD photo albums, and she knew the husbands, wives, grandchildren, even the pets’ names. And what was going on when the pics were taken. And all that was comforting and rewarding to HER. Oh the conversations it sparked. So bottom line, we may need to step OUT of our own comfort zone. Get still. Get quiet. Do simple things that are meaningful to the PERSON you love. Those are the things that teach you something!!!!

  • Miriam Meisler

    Hearing how much my husband meant to other people was very comforting to me – hearing that his life had value.

  • Virginia 3/2/20

    Stay in touch. Send Inspirational Expressions you have written—some humorous, full of hope. Do, not say, then not do it, unless the person does not wish help right away. They need time to process the loss. Seek the Holy Spirit for guidance.

  • Jane

    Several people said “what can I do to help?” I didn’t take any of them up on their offer but one friend who said I will be glad to come over and stay with your husband while you go and do your shopping. I did take her up on her offer since it was specific What she was willing to do.

  • Cheryl Smith

    May God Comfort you he knows your heat and needs.

  • Cheryl Smith

    May God comfort you. He knows your pain and sorrow.

  • K

    My mother died unexpectedly last night. My father is alone in a cold house in New Hampshire. I am so sorry is all I can say. It is how I feel having lost her, it is how I feel that he has to endure such pain. I am sorry, I am so so sorry is how I feel. I am also so so mad. Mad and sad. But for him, for her loss, my loss, the world’s loss, my sorrow is bottomless, painful, and not a platitude.

  • Judith

    My daughter lost her grown son,, Zachary, whom she was sooooo very close to two years ago. It has been such a tough two years. Since I was also very close to him we share a bond in grief, and joy. She feels I am the only one she can really be real with. She works five days a week and has to come off as ok then. It is hard for her to smile and go on a lot of days, but she does. I pray that someday she can focus on the live and joy they had with each other. I often send her silly dog, horse, cat and other animal videos as she is a lover of animals and that helps her find joy in days that are very difficult. There is no pat answer in trying to help her. It depends on the day. Since we both have faith and trust in the Lord, that is the one way we can see blessings in the pain.

  • Carol L Morrisey

    A friend who lost her husband suddenly said that my card comforted her. It was to the effect that if she had to choose whether to be the one left behind or to leave her husband alone, she would have chosen to be the one to suffer. I also feel the same, having lost my own husband. I’m glad he didn’t have to go on without me.

  • Janice Littrell

    A few things said to me at different stages of grief, that helped me thru my loss:
    * Your hurt and pain is a reflection of your love, the depth of your love. Lives end, love doesn’t, that’s why it hurts so bad.
    * Time seems to stand still at times when the boulders of grief surround us.
    * It may not feel like it now, but you are going to be OK.
    * Please be kind to yourself.
    * Trust in the love you shared with ….

  • Danna

    Don’t even ask if they need help, just bring food, clean something, (if you’re both comfortable with that). Insist on helping and ask for specifics and if they can’t Think of any ways for you to help then brainstorm with them or offer some suggestions yourself. Most people will just say no, I’m fine it’s OK when really they could use the help. I’m not saying to be obnoxious about it but just take charge and don’t take no for an answer unless they are really clear that they truly do not want any help. I know from my own experience that it’s easy just to brush people often say, no I’m ok, but thanks”. Often it’s too much just to manage people to help you so if you can manage the people who want to help, it’s a huge help . Just try to relieve the stress in someway large or small. Heck just hug . I recently heard we need 13 hugs a day. I get one if I’m lucky. Just sayin’.

  • Carmen

    What can I do for you? Can I hug you?

  • Lyvonne in Tucson

    Instead is “I’m sorry for your loss” which sounds so plastic and distancing “I’m sorry … But it’s your loss” try just ” I’m so sorry. ” they know why.

  • Rebecca Cone

    Talk about beauty. Talk about gratitude. Talk about wonderful memories. And sometimes, just shut up. Be sure to listen very carefully. “I admired you so much when….” I had so much fun when we….” “You are made of stardust, and you will always shine.” “What would you like to tell me?”

  • M Henning

    If you are in grief rather say nothing or just give a hug.
    You don’t even have enough energy just to get up,now you still have to think that the other person means it well etc- it hurts and you are in pain

  • Dorothy Trinen

    How about a simple, “What can I do to.help?”

  • Mary Conner

    The problem is a phrase which is good for one person is not for another. I have had stage 3 C Ovarian Cancer since 2015. I communicate online and in person with other people diagnosed with cancer. Some of the phrases you listed as never to say, are fine with me. On the list of things you can say ” You’re so strong.” makes me angry as does “I have faith that you are going to get through this.”. I believe the best thing to say is ” I am here for you. What can I do to help? “. It is also OK to say “I don’t know what to say but I would like to help.” We need help. Even if at first we may politely refuse it. Leave your contact info with the person and check with them off and on. Maybe we just need a ride to a doctor’s appointment or get out of the house to a movie, church, go on a scenic drive. Perhaps something more substantial like mowing the grass, going grocery shopping, taking the garbage out, vacuuming, caring for a pet ect. During chemo or radiation we may have severe fatigue and our immune system may be compromised so we may be more isolated than other people. Call, text, go by and visit. Offer specific things you can do to help. The one I would put on top of the list of things not to say is “You don’t look sick.”. This has been said to me by a well meaning friend. I prefer cancer thriver to cancer survivor. Other people are fine with cancer survivor. Another thing that angers me is “He lost his battle with cancer.”. I hate that. Just say he passed away. Thanks for trying to help. It is just not a situation that a list of magic phrases of what is best to say can be applied to everyone. Your actions are more important than what you say. Sometimes you just need a hug. Sometimes you don’t want anyone touching you. Let people know you care.

  • Jim Lovestar

    I say, “Would you like to walk with me? Talk or not is okay.”

  • marcia hornok

    Never tell your own story unless they ask. Saying you know what they may be going through minimizes their experience and makes your story the important one. If you are a survivor of exactly what they have you can ask if they’d like to hear something that helped you, but otherwise, focus on their suffering not yours.

  • wendy carson

    I have a friend who just told me she has ALS . My comment that blurted out was oh Fuck which made her laugh. I then told I am here and I care

  • Robert Ericson

    I love to hear people talk about my wife. It means that she was special to them. Some avoid mentioning her name because they think they are protecting me from grief. It helps to hear that she was special to people. One of the hardest things I had to do was to dispose of her things, clothes, shoes, jewelry. I was blessed to have special people (daughter-in-laws and otherfriends) offers to help. Notes from friends telling me they are praying for me. A call inviting me over just to visit. Being included. I have three wonderful supporting sons,but not livng close to me. After my wife passed away they expressed concern that I would living alone so they they set it up that I text all six (their wives and them) every morning and every evening to be sure that I was OK. That kind of concern is precious.

  • Bob Meehan

    Not all care giving works out the way you imagine. When some loved one doesn’t recover the tough conversations come. Someone always asks “how do you feel?”. as if in deep grief anyone can answer that question without emotional explosion. The only answer I had when my son died was “life is different”. Attitudes, priorities , relationships and outlook are all different. When you finally get through the woulda, shoulda, coulda period of reflection the only thing left is the good memories and moving forward with better intentions. For someone in grief try just saying ” Life will be different from now on and I’m here for you if you want me to be”.

  • J. H Dudek

    Be a foul weather friend. When the poop hits the fan, help clean it up.
    Send stupid, silly cards such as ridiculous un-birthday cards . Snail mail . Something other than a bill in your mailbox is a nice surprise. A daily laugh not related to crises is worth an immeasurable amount.

  • Helen Banner

    Sounds like many people in pain. So sorry. Helen B

  • Karen

    Your going to miss this.

    You need to take a break for a few days.
    When you would really enjoy an hour.

  • Sandi Bowen

    Please DON’T say, “I know how you feel.”
    Or, “Oh, that’s just like me, too.”
    Don’t say, “Closure.” Use , “Resolution,” instead.

  • Pam

    I want to thank every one who has posted comments! My uncle was recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. We want him to know how much we love him, how much we care and think about him as well as the rest of the family.
    Even as an adult, trying to find the right words is difficult which is why I ended up here. All of the comments posted below have helped tremendously. I’ve had experiences in my life to understand the importance of letting people know we are there and thinking of them rather than not being or saying anything at all but that’s all I know.
    Again, thank you all so much for your comments to this support resource page!!

  • Debbie Smith

    I’m a stage 4 cancer patient. It scares people around me. This is a terrific article that most people who are close to a cancer patient should read!

  • Rosellen

    Dear Susan ~ It was great to see you last Tuesday. You are such an important part of my life for the past 44 years! Wishing you strength to overcome both the big challenges and also the not-so-big challenges that pop up along the way. You seem to meet them with great courage and with the spirit you draw from deep within yourself. You are truly an amazing woman!!!

  • Jane Grudt

    I may agree with the “never say” as a caregiver of a spouse in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, but it is also damaging to us. You are turning away people that we need to let us know they have not forgotten us. We caregivers are not weak – let us handle those who care enough to show up. I hope my supporters never read any of your writing!

  • Mavis

    thoughtful and helpful article!

  • June Paul

    Upon learning that I had cancer among some other things going on in my life someone told me
    “It’s good for you to suffer.”

    Now, Nobody in even their right mind wants to hear those words. At least that what I thought in the moment and I was hurt. It sounded so uncaring. . . but thinking back, I think the person knew that radiation treatment for cancer is no walk in the park . . . this person had even told me they knew other women who had gone through breast cancer treatment and survived.
    I think this person meant to say that even though I’m suffering, the treatment will bring a good result.
    I think – I don’t know for sure – but that’s what I think – the person who said was in their right mind, I wasn’t. I’ admit that – I was feeling anxious and nervous. And I remember when a friend of mine told me she had cancer and I said, “I’m sorry you are going through this. Let me know if and how I can help. She said, no – no – no – I don’t need you to be sorry for me. I will talk with you some other time, and so all I did was pray and wait until she contacted me again.

    Different words touch us differently at different times in our lives – and that can put stress on relationships – but
    Love, Hope and Compassion Are Powerful . . . so is understanding and grace . . . sometimes saying something that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted is better than saying nothing at all . . . at least it shows you care enough to say so . . .

  • Delores McAllister

    Nancie, I am waiting for you to rally! Like you said you have 3 more trips you want to make. I am praying for you and the rest of your family, You can call on me to help in any way. I spoke with Kate and this is the websit.e we are supposed to use to sign up. I can help you tomorrow at 8:30 until 6:00, Also the same for 9/4/2117. Let me knowif this is ok.

  • Caren

    Hello, IN JANUARY 2017 THE LORD PUT IN ON MY HEART TO VISIT A YOUNG WOMAN . I ONLY MET HER 3 TIMES WHEN IS VISITED MY CHURCH .Her Dad was my Bible study teacher at one time ,and we always prayed her. I couldn’t possibly imagine the pain that her Mom ,Dad, sister, husband ,daughter 15, son 12 were going through., over the past ten years.I decided to take her a huge pan of hot lasagna, pot full of meatballs ,sauce ,fresh Italian bread, and a chocolate cake. You would have thought it was Christmas . Her face was beaming with joy as she clapped her hands and thanked me over and over. As I sat with her and just talked about her kids and anything funny , I was crying on the inside. It was not only an unexpected surprise for her ,but what an amazing lesson for me. We sometime forget to spread Gods amazing glory in the simplest ways. I continued bringing her meals every other week for the next four months….. Then on April 8th she went home to the lord at forty two. For over ten years Rebecca always praised the lord and worried more about blessing others. What an amazing woman of faith. A few weeks later I continued with the meals.More importantly I was there to hold her daughter in my arms as she cried uncontrollably . I didn’t need to say more than ” go head let it out. ….. and I love you. “. Showing Gods love is foremost . ….. Blessing to everyone,

  • Bob Clarke

    Great advise.

  • Critter-Girl

    Share more articles like this. I’m finding I have to educate everyone around me. The teaching needs to happen BEFORE i get really sick. Most people have not dealt with being really ill. They don’t understand the consequences.

  • Pat Derenburger

    When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my “best friend” of 25 years treated me like I had the plague. All she would say was, “I just don’t know what to say”. As a result, she said less and less until she more or less disappeared from my life. Another friend told me she was praying for me, sent frequent, chatty e-mails, made short, light-hearted calls, and sent cards or notes. That meant the world to me. She found things for us to discuss that weren’t connected to my cancer. We found lots of things to laugh about. Getting my mind off my condition and treatment was the best therapy in the world.

  • Beth

    Do we HAVE to say something? Just showing up means the world to one who is suffering. A hug, not meaningless words, means more than can be expressed.

  • Lisamolloy

    As the mom of my son who amazingly survived three transplants I can only say I remember people’s kindness . Of course we will always have people say inappropriate words or phrases, in my experience it was always in good faith. Humor , smiles and hugs help us heal as well.

  • LuAnne Miller, RN, BSN, PCCN, PHN

    Don’t ever think that what you say to someone can make them feel better. That’s what we all want to do, but you CAN’T make them feel better. Nothing you say will make them feel better. What can help is knowing how much someone cares and maybe to hear them say they are hurting with you. Then the person may not feel so alone.

  • Gaye Cramp

    When I was sick it helped to hear of others who had come through it and were healthy again.

  • Donna Blauw

    One thing that just came to mind was; is there anything you need help wit, laundry, house cleaning, or anything you can think of let me know.

  • Betty M Brown

    Appropriate comments–might help take the hurt away from inappropriate comments that well-intentioned folks use. Hope so.

  • Sylvia Goldman

    Thank you SO much for putting this out there, CaringBridge! I think the best thing that someone can do sometimes in a situation when they’re with a person who is very ill is to either say, “I’m so sorry” or don’t say anything at all & just give them a hug or hold their hand. People maybe mean well when they say some of these comments, but if they would just stop & think before they speak about what they sound like, perhaps they won’t say it!

  • Nancy Miller

    When my son died, I used a shortcut for “Forgive the stupid people,”. FTSP!! All my friends and family knew the signal for when someone was trying to help, but said the most inane things to someone experiencing extreme grief. It made us laugh and lightened our hearts, while forgiving their mistakes.

  • Priscilla Peterson

    My mother died after a 14-year struggle with Alzheimer’s. Most of that time I was the family member in charge of her care, and when she died I had such a mix of emotions: I had come to feel as though she was another one of my own “children” that I was taking care of, and as though I had let her down; I missed her terribly, not just because she was my mother but because we had been professional colleagues and true friends. Amazingly, someone actually said to me after she died, “You must be so relieved”! I wasn’t at all sure how to take that (relieved because she died? because I didn’t have to take care of her anymore?), but I chose to hope that the person meant “relieved that she is no longer suffering.” When a person dies who has been ill for a long time, never assume you know what the family or caregivers are feeling!

  • kay newberry

    Great tips for what to say or not say.


    After having lost 4 close family members in the last few years I would suggest that telling someone that they are strong isn’t the best thing to say to someone. That is an assumption that may or may not be true and telling a person what you hope they are isn’t very helpful. I suggest that be taken off the list. A simple “I’m sorry ” or ‘I’m sorry for your lost” is a very good, simple thing to say. It also takes in a lot of considerations such as how long ago did this happen, how.close you are to the person and also where you are where and how many people are around.

    I believe letting the survivor lead the direction of the conversation is very understanding and kind.
    If you think of something to say and you wonder if its appropriate, it probably isn’t. Just being there can bring sa lot of comfort.