What to Say to Families of Accident Victims
Life does not treat everyone fairly. While some of us are more fortunate than others, some of us deal with heavy problems. Maybe you were dealt a better hand in life, and you’ve noticed there are people around you who are less fortunate. If you have ever had a family member who has been in a severe accident or hit with a life-threatening illness you understand how emotionally painful and draining this can be.
If you have not experienced this kind of trauma in your life, you might feel worried that you may say the wrong words or upset those you are trying to support. Navigating these kinds of conversations can be extremely difficult because failing to reach out properly can come across as cold, distant, or suggesting a lack of concern.
It’s OK. These are normal feelings. There are ways you can reach out to others to show you care and are available to help if they need you. You can do this without sounding cold or distant, obnoxious, or embarrassing. Research shows that what we say to the family members of accident victims, goes a long way. If you’re struggling to find the right words to comfort the families of accident victims this article is going to give you some examples of what to say and/or do.
Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.
What to Say to Your Friend When They Are Dealing With an Injury in Their Family?
First thing’s first. Offer a helping hand.
Offering help might sound redundant. All the family wants at this stage is an ‘out’ of the situation, and unfortunately, this is not within anyone’s control. But you never know. Of course, many people offer help which they don’t genuinely mean, they are saying it just to say it. But it doesn’t matter. You want to help, and they should call you or reach out to you if they need anything. Ask them:
Is there anything I can do for you or your [Family Member’s Name]? What can I do to help you?
Two simple questions but they could mean the world to that person. Maybe they only want someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, take away food, anything. you will be there to help them.
If you are going to visit them at their home or the hospital, call or send a message to ask them if they need you to bring anything.
Maybe they are hungry and they don’t have anything to eat. Maybe they want you to stop at their house and bring something to the hospital. Or if you are visiting them at their home, ask them if they need anything to eat for example. When people are dealing with these problems they often don’t even have time to scratch their heads. They might be hungry, and who knows when was the last time they ate something.
Sometimes people are shy, and they can’t tell you what they need even if you ask them. In these cases, it would be better to just look around the house and see if there is anything that needs to be cleaned or fixed. Maybe there is a huge pile of dishes, maybe they need help with laundry, maybe they need someone to take their dog out for a walk. Don’t wait. Do something.
Be a good listener.
Emotional support is something families will need the most at this time. Likely, many people around them will clumsily tell them all the wrong things and make them feel even worse. Maybe they have no one to share their fears and worries with. They might need a good pair of ears more than anything at this time. Just let them talk as much as they need. Try not to interrupt them and let them open up to you. Then you can find a way to speak to them and offer your support accordingly. Even a simple sentence like “I am here, and I am listening, I’m here for you” can be much more needed than you can imagine.
Ask them what kind of therapy options they are thinking of.
It would be best if you did this instead of giving them your opinion. (see below). This would allow them to talk about what they have available to them. And it would also allow you to understand what they are thinking and/or planning. This way, you can offer better help. Maybe you know a particular specialist, or if you don’t, tell them you will help them by researching and let them know when you have some information for them.
If you are close enough, tell them you love them, and you have faith in them.
People want to feel empowered. The best way to make someone feel empowered is to let them know you love and support them. This gives an emotional boost like nothing else. Some circumstances in life require us to find empowerment in the strength of our mental resilience. Nothing promotes mental resilience like a feeling of belonging and connection with other people.
People are not naturally equipped to find the right words at any given moment, for every situation. Sometimes, we say something so innocently, but it happens to be the wrong thing and messes up everything. Not only does it make the situation uncomfortable, but it also has the potential to damage relationships.
What Not to Say to Someone Whose Family Member Is an Accident Victim?
Don’t give them any advice.
Unless you are a licensed medical professional, the advice is likely to be THE very last thing people want to hear right in times of crisis. Unless someone specifically asks for your advice, do not offer it. Because there are tens of others who are doing the same thing, and for a very bizarre reason, everyone is already an expert on everything. So spare yourself the dreadful moment, don’t offer any advice.
Don’t compare their situation to that of someone you know.
Each person is unique and each situation is unique, too. People don’t like to be compared to others in normal times, let alone in severely stressful times. The exception to this rule is stories that offer hope, but again- ere on the side of caution.
Don’t mention people who are in a worse condition than them.
No one wants to hear this. Are they supposed to feel sorry for their loved one’s injury, or are they supposed to feel guilty that they are hurting emotionally? Allow people time to go through whatever they are going through. Everyone’s situation is terrible for them, by their standards. You can’t ask someone to deny how they’re feeling and then minimize their pain altogether by talking about people in worse conditions.
Don’t offer any alternative therapy ideas.
People need to follow what their doctors are telling them. If they are interested in alternative medicine, it should be their independent decision. Don’t offer any alternative or homeopathic solutions. If anything goes wrong, this is the kind of responsibility you don’t want to take. It is a serious health matter and decisions must be made on their terms.
Don’t tell them that they’re lucky, things could have been much worse.
They probably already know that, but if they don’t, they don’t want to think about anything worse than what they are going through right now. You are not trying to teach them a life lesson, you are there to help them and to uplift their spirits, and give support.
Don’t start talking about things that happened to you.
“When I was a teenager” or “A few years ago when I had this accident or that thing”. Comments like that are disliked by most people as it appears like you are trying to bring yourself to the center of attention. And suddenly you look like someone who wants all the attention instead of a good friend who honestly wants to support others.
Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.
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If you can physically be there to support the families of the accident victim, try to do your best to visit them regularly. Many people have friends and family members that come during the first few weeks, then everyone goes back to their own lives, their problems. If you can manage to pay regular visits to your friend, they will appreciate it more than you can imagine. That’s when the dust settles and everyone goes away and they feel the severity of their situation. This is the time you need to be there with them.
If you can’t be physically together, make sure you arrange phone calls, video chats, or texting regularly. Tell them what you think of them, ask them how you can be helpful to them, and just carry out a normal casual conversation with them to make them feel better, give them comfort and a little bit of inner peace.
At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.
If you’re interested in further reading, we’ve also included links to our trusted resources and related posts below. To find out more about NTRW and our recommended tools, you can do that here.
Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!
Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation. Learn more about me here.
In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.
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