Right now I am confronted with a difficult situation where I want to ask for your empathetic recommendation. The father of one of my very best friends strongly suffers on cancer and is dying very soon (potentially even today). She told me about the actual seriousness when I wrote her to ask for a walk.

Our friendship is incredibly strong, so I want to be there for her in any possible case. How can I express the value of our friendship and that I am always there for her, no matter what mental constitution she is? I am unsure how to consider the situation with her dad in a reply. I don't know him personally, but she told me about him and her family many times.

After reading this and that, I already know that some stupid and nonsense sentence like "you will feel better very soon" is not a helpful expression because it's just trying to comfort them without acknowledging their pain.

Is it outrageous to say something about that it is maybe a painful but relieving situation for all relatives, even for him?

3 Answers 3


"The bad"

I was in a similar situation 10+ years ago. The situation was actually worse - after a successful pregnancy, the child of a colleague was born dead. I wanted to say something nice / helpful, so I decided to go with something like:

I am sorry for the loss. I am sure God has bet plans...

I understood easily that my feelings were taken as an empty platitude, by looking at their face.

"The better"

That situation made me think about how to handle things, and paid attention to other people doing it, and I changed somewhat the way I express things.

I am sorry for [your problem]. I (don't even) know how hard it must be for you. However, if there is something I can do to help, please let me know.

Of course, this will not make them feel happy - nothing can, actually. However, them knowing that they can count on help is sometimes helpful. I know because occasionally, they accept my offer, and ask me to do something for them - transport something / somebody, do a little shopping, spend time with the patient in the hospital... And I deliver on the promise.

Depending on the specifics, a kind hug might be appropriate.

I happened to be in the situation at a funeral, when the mother of the deceased needed some physical support. I just did that - partially supporting her, partially hugging. Words could only hurt, while body was lowered into the ground.

"The good"

In extreme cases, like somebody in the family dying before their time, there can be no real "good". Unless you can say something to heal the person, whatever you say will still leave the problem there. But the expression of humanity is what makes things easier to bear for the dear ones.

I am sorry for the unhappy situation you have. I hope your friend's family will be able to get over this easier, maybe with your support.


I've been involved in Grief Management sessions and am finishing seminary... perhaps I can offer some thoughts here.

As your friend goes through the stages of grieving (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness, and Acceptance), it is important for you as a friend to do one thing: listen to them. Too many people try to help the grieving by saying what they think they should say, rather than what the grieving person needs them to say.

You are right that it's hard for your friend to see how they will feel better soon. Right now they're in the process, and don't see the end of it. I find that saying things like "It's all for the better" and "It's part of God's plan" really don't help them move along. Instead, I sometimes encourage them to talk about the person they lost and share good memories.

Instead of trying to say something comforting, and I repeat myself: listen. Be there for your friend. I don't know either of you and am not sharing in the grief, so I can't say "this is what you say". Instead, be there. Let them talk. If they cry, let them cry. You can't change how they feel, but you can validate it and tell them that it's normal to feel that way (as long as they are doing normal grieving and not stuck for extended periods in one phase).

Each person grieves differently and there's no formula for us as counselors to follow - the only thing we can do is walk beside them and help them to move along. WRT your question of "Is it outrageous to say something about that it is maybe a painful but relieving situation for all relatives, even for him": it all depends on where they are with their grief and how soon you want to say it, as well as the circumstances around the death. At the funeral would be a decidedly BAD time to do that. As they move to acceptance, perhaps that would be a good time. but if you try that during the denial, anger, or bargaining phase, it most likely will not end positively for anyone. Again, watch for cues from your friend and let them tell you when the right time to say this would be.

Good luck with this!


This is something that I have experienced from both sides-- losing a loved one, and having a close friend who lost their father fairly young. In general, I feel that it's better to avoid any 'silver lining' types of words like, "he's in a better place now" and "it's all part of God's plan". While grief is still real and raw, it's better to acknowledge how terrible this is for her right here and now. You can say things like, "This is terribly sad", ""He was a good man and will be missed by many people" and "I'm here for you". You can remind her that her sadness is normal, that you care for her in this difficult time, and most of all (assuming that it is true) that you can handle her negative feelings, and aren't scared away by them or too uncomfortable. It is of immense value when going through the hardest times in life to have someone who can accept your overwhelming emotions, empathize/sympathize with them, and yet not be so drawn into them that they also begin to 'drown'.

On that note, make sure that you do what you need to take care of yourself. It's alright to be sad yourself, and cry with your friend sometimes, but if you are having a hard time with the death, find someone more remote from the situation to give you some support, or take time to do things that make you feel happy and well, etc. Don't let yourself falling into a 'mutual support' situation with your friend-- be strong for her when you can be, if you start to falter let someone else support you. There is a helpful concept called "ring theory" that is useful for anyone who is supporting others through a crisis.

You can offer help and support in the form of gifts (a meal, a pretty potted plant, a cozy blanket, a giftcard for favorite food or coffee), physical assistance (shopping, cleaning, errands, help planning the funeral or making hotel arrangements for family who are coming to visit), you can take your friend out to get her mind off it and remind her of your care/esteem (a movie, a walk, out to eat), and/or by checking in to see how she is feeling. As you are close, you will probably know what feels right in this area.

Up to a point, it's nice to try to cheer her up, but it probably won't seem to work very well for a while, and that's normal and okay. Don't feel that this is a rejection of you or take it personally that you can't 'make her happy again'. Your efforts, listening, being there, and not being 'scared away' by hard times and intense feelings is valuable on its own.

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