If the person in crisis is an acquaintance rather than a close friend, one of the best ways to express sympathy is by sending a note, says Florence Isaacs, the author of Just a Note to Say… (Clarkson Potter, $18, amazon.com). Isaacs suggests that you:
- Be brief. If you don’t know the person well, it’s fine to send a short message. Use a note card―you can fill it up with just two or three lines.
- Be honest. The words “I’m thinking of you” are welcome no matter what the crisis. You can also admit, “I don’t know what to say.” If someone has died, the greatest gift is to share a fond memory of the person.
- Don’t make assumptions. Avoid phrases like “I know how you feel,” because you really don’t. Everyone’s grief and pain are different. “It’s better this way,” whether in response to a divorce or a death, is also presumptuous. And if an acquaintance is sick but you’re not sure why, don’t wish her a speedy recovery―she might have a chronic or terminal illness.