Nothing makes you more tongue-tied than learning a friend, loved one, colleague, or neighbor is sick, in treatment, or bereaved. What can you say? And what do you do if you fear you’ve said something inappropriate? That’s what happened to a friend. She was worried she’d said the wrong thing to a sick friend and asked ”What can I do to make this right?” At first glance it doesn’t seem like a difficult question; just apologize. But there’s nothing simple about relationships and miscommunication.
How do you make amends to someone who is ill or bereaved when you fear you’ve said the wrong thing or done something that may have been insensitive?
The first option is to communicate your regrets by speaking with your friend either by phone or in person. Be frank and state, “I’m afraid that I said something last week that may have caused you pain. Please accept my apology.” Be open to their response and willing to listen.
If you are not comfortable making a verbal apology, you can do so by writing a note or communicating via email. When writing a note you can simply say what you would have said verbally. Or, you can be honest and share: “This is a journey I have yet to take. I want to support and help you but I’m not sure what I can say and do that will be helpful. Please help me by letting me know if I say or do something that is not appropriate.”
When communicating with email, use the subject line to express your regrets. Someone you may have hurt may be tempted to just delete your message, especially if the subject line is “Hi.” Try using a subject line like “My apologies” or “Please forgive me” and you will be more likely to get your message read.
It’s important to remember that you’re also affected when something bad happens to someone you care about. It’s so challenging to be tactful when you’re feeling all kinds of emotions. Just take a breath and do your best. And if all else fails, apologize.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in e-book and print for "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage" and e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / lusi