What should I say to someone who is suffering?

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It’s a good idea to have some readiness for this, because you will encounter people who are bereft or ill or injured on a regular basis here on Earth, and if you are not on Earth even more so.

It is important to be polite and thoughtful and to make sure you aren’t making yourself another chore for them. I have some other pointers below, mostly based on all the times I have said the worst things, only to realize it was too late to gulp the words back in.


Be brief. People who are distressed will have trouble concentrating. They may very well have difficulty hearing you over the roar of their suffering in the short term.

Do not remind them that their hair may be falling out in three months. They do not care that you are clever about side effects of stress.

Do not be too verbally observant, it can be uncomfortable for them if you point out how weary they look. However, if you notice something they need, take care of it. For instance, if they need a tissue, hand them one. Likewise, if they are gagging, discretely and swiftly hand them something to barf into. Like that.

Do not talk about yourself at length. When you encounter a person whose dog has just died, do not tell them all about your dead dog experiences. That is not helpful to them, to you, or to the dog.

Saying that you know how they feel makes it about you too, so just don’t.

Maybe say nothing. Most people say a lot more than they need to for all occasions. Often a hug or a (super-gentle!) punch in the shoulder is the only comment you need to make.

If you must speak select one of the following, but only if you are completely sincere:

  • I’m sorry.
  • Rotten luck.
  • I’ll be here.
  • I have a bottle in my truck.
  • I have cookies in this bag.
  • I love you.

You can deviate a little from this, like, “I’ll be here, with cookies” or “I have pie in my car,” but you can’t go wrong with these options.

Just be your sweet, companionable self and it will be fine if not fun.


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