What to Say to Someone Who’s Going Through Hell (Part 1)

Nothing feels more socially awkward than going through tough times. It’s hard to admit to myself and the world that some of my wildest nightmares, not my wildest dreams, have been coming true.

It’s disappointing. Who wants to be “That poor family with the sad story?” I don’t.

Contemplating my husband’s cancer makes me feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and strangely shy. I have absolutely no idea what to say to anyone. (Which if you’re one of the folks waiting for me to call or write you back, um, that’s why you haven’t heard from me yet. Sorry.)

Based on my own experience, I’m sure you don’t know what to say to me either. I’ve seen others go through hard times, and I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I’ve let moments, months, years (!) pass by and have said nothing to friends and acquaintances for fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Now that I’m going through one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced, I would say that I’ve loved hearing from every person who’s thought to reach out to me. There’s no bad time to contact me, as long as you don’t care if I’m extremely slow at responding.

I know there are no magic words. I’ve appreciated receiving simple, heartfelt thoughts like, “I think of you often. I’m praying/sending good vibes, or I want to help if I can.” I’ve enjoyed funny stories, inspirational quotes, and reminders that good things can happen, too.

I think the best thing you can say to someone going through hell is to just say something, even if it feels like it took awhile.

Now, let’s see if I can take my own advice and pick up the phone.


Tomorrow I will be posting Part 2, written by a guest blogger—Star Jimenez Johnson, a friend “who’s been there.”

Please remember to continue to pray for my husband, his researchers, and all others who are facing cancer, serious illness and feelings of hopelessness.Thank you.

7 thoughts on “What to Say to Someone Who’s Going Through Hell (Part 1)

  1. avatarJennifer zeak

    Jen what and how you write is so beautiful and so true! I don’t know what your going through and I don’t know what to say to help but I do know that you are a very dear friend to me and I hate that anything bad would ever happen to you or your beautiful family! I will pray for you all and know that God is able to take care of you all! I love you girl and will be here for you whenever if ever you need and are able to talk! I praying for you all!

  2. avatarSusanna Willingham

    I really appreciated this post Jen!
    I pray for you and Robert daily. I see him wrapped in white healing light.

    Do you know about Silent Unity ?
    They have a special way of phrasing that claims your need as true. it’s counter-intuitive. I am sure this will be a useful site if you don’t already know of it even if that part doesn’t apply.

    I put Robert on the prayer list again today.
    They pray 24/7 for the person named for 30 days.


  3. avatarCarolyn Everley

    Jen and Robert,
    Jerry and I are both praying for all of you every day…in fact, that is what I was doing at 5:30 A.M. today. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon and giving all three of you a hug.

  4. avatarjean michael

    I remember when AIDS was scourging the Bronx and nuns from the same order as Mother Teresa came up to help people dying of AIDS clean their apartments. These were proud people who had diligently scoured floors of aged linoleum that would never look clean. One woman I knew was so grateful for their efforts. After thanking the sisters profusely, she said, “Now I will clean my inner house.” It is all about compassion, putting aside our needs to find what someone else truly needs.

    1. avatarjean michael

      Meant the above comment for Part II where Star mentioned how compassionate friends can help people who are grieving but I guess it doesn’t matter. Thanks.

  5. avatarAnn Appleton Granelli

    Please pray for Robert Williams and his family and Please donate to his private fund at Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC. If Robert raises a million dollars, the doctors at this cutting edge cancer hospital will create private gene therapy which could save his life.
    I believe in this hospital because they cured my own father’s cancer over 20 years ago. The doctors said he was definitely going to die, but we received a miracle at Sloan Kettering Hospital. We brought him home and had him for 7 more years. (After which he succumbed to another condition.)
    He always told me to tell people, “I beat cancer; this disease can be cured.” Having witnessed my Dad’s miraculous recovery, I know miracles do happen. Please storm the heavens with prayers and donate to Robert’s fund.
    Ann Appleton Granelli


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