I think so.
The first thing I would tell you is sometimes you can't think of what to say because there is nothing to say.
It is my experience what trips people up is the desire or need to "help", but the way you want to help may simply not be possible.
We don't like people to hurt. We don't like people unhappy. We don't like people to be angry. We don't like "negative" emotions. We want to fix them. We want to get the hurting person to a non-hurting place.
That is our definition of "help":
Getting the hurting person to a non-hurting place.
As noble as that sounds, you're not going to do it. You just aren't.
What you can do is step into the hurting place with the person.
How do you do that with your words?
Honestly, sometimes you do it by just being quiet,
by realizing nothing you say is going to help,
so you just listen.
Believe it or not, people who do not talk about trauma get stuck in it. A certain amount of talking and processing is required for healing to happen. One of the best gifts you can give a person is to let him or her talk. Let them tell the story over and over. I had a lot of people tell me not to think about it. Do you have any idea how utterly stupid that suggestion is? I watched my mom take her last breath. I stared at my husband's dead body on an ER table, and I'm not supposed to think about those things? Others can't get soap opera story lines or the crazy high electric bill out of their mind, and that is normal, but thinking about the deaths of two key people in my life is not?
Let the person talk about memories. Let them talk about what happened. Let them talk about plans they had and don't know how to face now.
Multiple people told me I needed a counselor and antidepressants.
First of all, I was not depressed. I was grieving. HUGE difference.
Second of all, if I had a friend who would listen and let me work through the emotions and mental jumble, I wouldn't need a counselor. Sadly, most people don't know how to be that kind of friend. Understand, I say that as someone who has gone through some intense trauma and still struggle to know how to help hurting friends. So mostly, I just try to tell them I love them and am listening.
And when I am listening, I don't flinch at whatever they say. In fact, I may toss some things in they wanted to say but were trying to being politically correct about.
Rage doesn't shock me. Four-letter words don't shock me.
One of my very good friends who walked shoulder to shoulder with the kids and me through this is a pastor. I've known him over 20 years, and one day I vented. I think I may have used every four-letter word I know and made up new new combinations to boot. You know that man never said a word about my language. He told me he could not imagine the pain I am, could not imagine trying to pick up the pieces, could not imagine the pain of friends turned traitors, could not imagine how hard it is to be a single parent watching her children grieve for their dad. He told me he had no clue what to say to help, but he was still there.
And you know what I did? I kept talking to him and his wife. When life was the worst--when I was MY worst--I knew I could be real with them.
They gave me the gift of ignoring my word choices...
and hearing my heart.
When someone is hurting, the last thing they need is the pressure of a dog and pony show for people who know how to be religious but haven't the foggiest clue to how to be loving.
There is a reason people quit talking. It's because they learn people don't want to hear what they have to say. Whether it be brutal honesty or just telling about that last day together once more, they learn people don't want to hear it, so they don't say it. That is where they get stuck. That is where the healing slows...or stops. That is where they try desperately to be "normal" for everyone...where they look for drugs of whatever form to make them acceptable because being real only keeps them alone. And it is easier to medicate and be "acceptable" with people than it is to be real and work through the grief alone.
If you want really help, listen. Even when it is so real you don't know what to do with it. Unless you believe the person is going to hurt herself or others, just listen.
Listen to the heart of someone who is trying to figure out a new way of living. There is no "getting back to normal". Normal included a person who isn't coming home. Normal is gone. This person is trying to figure out how to live differently. They are figuring out a different number of people at the dinner table, a new schedule, what to do with the favorite sweater of someone they love. And it's hard.
For me, I found I really had a hard time with Sunday evenings. It took some time and a few emails to friends before I realized what it was. For years, every Sunday night I watched my favorite TV show, drank a glass of chocolate milk, munched on almonds, and ironed my husband's clothes. Then I no longer needed to iron clothes. I hated Sunday evenings for a long time.
And, just so you know, people are going to cry. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to sit on the other end of the phone and listen while they sob beyond the ability to even talk. You may think you aren't helping, but you are. Trust me. Sitting on your bedroom floor sobbing alone in the dark is mental and emotional hell. I thank God for the people who simply held the phone to their ear and listened to me cry and talk unintelligibly.
I've also been on the listening side. I've been on the other side of the table as one of my heart deep friends asked me, "Why? What is God doing?" and put her head on the table and shook with sobs. Everything in me wanted to say something...anything...to help...except I've been the one with my head down. I've been the one whose tears made a puddle on the table...and on the floor...and I knew. There was nothing I could say that could touch her pain. There were no words. So I sat right where I was...listening...knowing part of living in this world is pain unspeakable...and the only antecdote is someone loving in the pain.
Sometimes we have no words because there are no words. But sometimes just being there, listening, not trying to fix anything but loving right where that person hurts says everything they need to hear.