In a recent letter, one of my pen pals said that she had been very sad lately and then went on to explain that her cat was dying. Reading it, I felt nervous because I knew that nothing I said would actually make her feel better.
It happens to us all, I imagine. Sometimes a pen pal will say something in a letter and I just don’t know how to respond. This can be for any number of reasons, but when one of my pen pals is in distress, I make a point to respond to it somehow, even if I am initially unsure of what to say.
I ended up telling her that it was okay to be sad; pets are more than just animals and are a part of your family. But I also made clear that if she wants to talk more, I am there to listen.
Comforting somebody can be a big challenge. In my experience, a lot of the things people say to comfort you do not comfort you at all. Sometimes people give you pep talks, and no matter how well they mean, they end up doing the exact opposite; instead of being pepped up, you feel worse than ever. (For example, I love my hairdresser to death, but she can be a pep-talker)
I found a book called The Art of Comforting through Tumblr, and when I read it, I found a lot of really great examples of what you can say and adapt to a lot of difficult situations. In this post I’m sharing some examples of what you could say, as opposed to what you might want to say initially.
Instead of saying, “Girl, it’s time you got over Firefly being cancelled,”
you could say… “This could take some time.”
Instead of saying, “I know exactly how you feel,”
you could say… “I can only imagine how this must feel.”
Instead of saying, “It could be a lot worse–you still have a roof over your head, after all,”
you could say… “I am so sorry this is happening to you.”
Instead of saying, “So what if GRRM isn’t writing The Winds of Winter fast enough–s*** happens. There’s nothing you can do about it,”
you could say… “That’s really crappy.”
Instead of saying, “This is part of life! One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh,”
you could say… “You don’t deserve this. Nobody should have to go through what you’re going through.”
What I also cannot emphasize enough is that in addition to giving your pen pal a message of comfort is the part where you make sure you include a message of being there for them. The concept of “being there” may seem difficult, as many of us are not physically near to our pen pals. But it always helps to tell them that you are listening to them and that you will continue to listen.
Comforting someone can be hard. Just remember that you don’t want to say to your pen pal something you yourself wouldn’t want to hear in a similar situation.
Happy writing, Iggles! (Despite the somewhat grim subject matter of this post…)