Consolatory Words… Or Not

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Remember my post about how “everything happens for a reason”—and how the trite phrase should serve as a wake-up call, rather than as consolation?

I have another one for you:

“It’ll all be all right in the end.”

This saying provides no consolation, either when we say it to ourselves or when someone says it to us. Know why?

Of course everything will turn out okay in the end. Even if it didn’t get to that extreme, the person to whom you speak certainly assumes that everything will get better or even out in some fashion over a period of time, whether long or short. Otherwise, she may as well just end it all now. (After all, in the grand scheme of the universe, our passing serves perfectly well as "all right in the end.")

And telling anyone that everything will turn out for the best in time doesn’t assuage the pain she’s suffering in the moment. Sure, everything will be okay in the end. But she hurts now. Right in this very moment. Future “okay-ness” doesn’t suffice for the exact time period in which she suffers.

I know. You meant to help.

You feel flummoxed. Someone you know has a life crisis and you want to sympathize—or can even empathize. Yet you don’t know what to say to convey your support and love and concern. You have to say something.

So you say something stupid. You say, “It’ll all be all right in the end.”

Take heart: Alternatives exist. Don’t give advice—at least, not in the moment—unless she requests it. Don’t say that you know how she feels. (You don't.) Simply throw out words of commiseration:

  • "I am so sorry."

  • “What a terrible thing to go through. You must feel so upset.”

  • “I wish I could make it all go away.”

  • “I love you.” or “I care about you.”

Or you could say nothing and just stay fully present, listen to what she has to say, nod or “mmhm” or “okay.” Sometimes, simply having someone to listen, provide a hug, and bring you a warm pot of tea makes all the difference.

What do you recommend for consolatory words?