What to Say in a Crisis


Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady, reminds us that there are only four kinds of people in the world:

  • Those who have been caregivers
  • Those who are currently caregivers
  • Those who will be caregivers
  • Those who will need caregivers

Whether that caregiving role is to the aged, bereaved, or survivor victims of major trauma or death, we ALL need more genuine compassion and better skills in these challenging situations.

Glenn Davis, D.Min. is chaplain for Community Crisis Response at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC.  He offers some examples of things to say that may be helpful, although the list is incomplete given all the circumstances we might encounter.

“I’m sorry it happened.”

“I cannot know or understand what you are feeling, but I care.”

“This must be awful for you.”

“Will you let me help you?” (Remember all victims are not incapacitated and have the right to make informed choices to empower themselves.)

“You are safe now.”  (You can say this if this is, in fact, true.)

“How are you doing NOW?”  (Not: “How are you doing?”)

“It’s OK to cry.” (Timing is important. Saying this prematurely can shutdown emotions, especially for males.)

“It’s normal to be angry.”

“You must have loved _______ so much.” (Mention the loved one’s name.)

“Tell me about him/her.” (This can be an opportunity to share history and invite trust and also invites story-telling.)

“He/She meant so much to me.” (You can say this if you knew the deceased and have been personally impacted by the death.)

“It wasn’t your fault.” (You can say this if you know this to be true.)

“Your reactions are normal; the event is abnormal.” (This is important to hear because many survivors have no point of reference.)

“You are not crazy.” (Remember that many survivors will fear the loss of control.)

“It’s OK. You don’t have to talk.” (Be an advocate if others try to make survivors talk.)

“It will never be the same, but you can get better.” (This is an affirmative response to the survivor’s anxiety and fears about the future.)

“I want to be with you through this.”  (Fears of abandonment and exploitation are paramount with many survivors. Vulnerability is high.)

“I am praying for you.”

“Let’s stay in contact and do it soon.” (Say this when your physical presence is no longer needed or when other support has arrived.)

Victims are more apt to forgive our transgressions and missteps as caregivers when they know our compassion is genuine.