This list is from Fight Back With Joy by Margaret Feinberg. I'm often asked, "What do you say to someone who....."
This list provides some options to consider in a variety of situations when you "just don't know what to say." I'm sharing here as I want to keep the list handy.
1. Know that you are loved and prayed for today.
Make the one suffering the central concern. Give the gift of presence.
2. My heart aches with you and for you today.
This acknowledges your grief but keeps the one who is hurting central, rather than your feelings. "This makes us the focus of concern and compassion while acknowledging that you are with us and for us."
3. I have experienced loss, and I am so sorry for what you're going through.
If you have experienced similar grief, this opens the possibility of "comforting those with the comfort you've received," (2 Cor. 1:4). "We may not be in the mood to chitchat or may find great comfort in connecting with you. If we ask you to share, remember to keep the focus on our current loss and grief even as you share form you own. This can be a gift to those of us feeling alone, isolated, or unsure about what we're feeling or thinking."
4. If you have a specific prayer request, I'd be honored to pray for you. But in the meantime, know that I'm praying for you and asking God how to pray for you best.
"This well-meaning question can become tiring to those facing great loss or pain. Specific prayer requests can be hard to identify, can change every day, or may not be public information. Remember you don't need specific details to pray for us."
5. You are so loved! What specific thing can I do and/or provide that would help you right now? Let me know - and if you don't have any ideas, I have suggestions.
"Many people think they know what someone needs without asking the person. The result is often an abundance of one or two resources and a lack of other needs being met. The refrigerator fills with casseroles that soon go bad; the closets overflow with blankets while medical bills go unpaid and the lawn isn't mowed for months.
Always ask what someone needs. Come prepared with practical ideas....Offer a gift card to a gas station, pharmacy or grocery store. Suggest prepaying for several hours of handyman or cleaning service. Offer and afternoon watching a comedy to get out of the house and laugh. Provide an evening of childcare. Remember the needs of the spouse and kids too."