People tend to find it hard to know what to say when confronted by another’s suffering, particularly if they don’t know the person well. They may inquire as to how many children they have, and when the answer is “three; two here and one in spirit,” they don’t know how to respond. It is the same when encountering grief, serious illness, infertility or a survivor of abuse. It is tempting to apply a verbal salve to the savage wound, usually in the form of platitudes such as “chin up,” “you can try again,” “it will get better with time…” These words hold no healing, and are rather like acid being poured onto a vulnerable soul.
I went to a Bravehearts luncheon the other day, and afterward, one of the women divulged the abuse she had suffered as a child. Those gathered listened respectfully, and afterward, I went up to her, hugged her, and whispered, “I am so sorry that you endured such things; so sorry that you suffered so.” I did this because kind folk had said this to me. Others wanted to know how far I had fallen when I was pushed off that ledge as a teen; they wanted to know the details to satisfy their curiosity. I treasure those who cradled me, and whispered how sorry they were. It is the ultimate recognition of trauma. You aren’t attempting to fix the situation with glib words, nor paper over what a brave person has divulged. You have acknowledged their pain and the unfairness of what has transpired. “I am so very sorry…” That is all that is needed.