In 1979, our hometown of Alvin, TX was devastated by a flood. Some reports put the rainfall in 24 hours at 48 inches. Our home was flooded with 5+ feet of water. Everything below that mark was ruined. My parents were on their way back from vacation, and I met my Dad at our home. As he and I saw the damage, I made the remark to him, "I know just how you feel." He stopped in mid-stride, turned and looked at me and replied, "No son. I don't think you know how I feel."
He was right. My words, though meant to comfort, could have been stated in a more helpful way.
I was in a hospital about 4 weeks ago as my Father lay dying. Again, I heard words of comfort from so many. Many of these words proved to be more helpful to me than ones I might have said if the circumstances were switched. Friends' words were tempered with wisdom and true sorrow. Words like "I'm so sorry this happened," rather than "It happened for the best." Or "I can only imagine how you've coped," soothed the heart better than "Be strong and you'll get through it."
Words are sometimes used to help others know we care, but the greatest expression of care came from friends just being there. These were not offering words but they were giving of themselves and their time. They just sat with me and other family members.
I hope I'm a little more perceptive and a lot more helpful than I was in 1979.