“I’m so sorry.”
It doesn’t seem like much does it?
OK, if you are really hurting for your friend:
“I’m so sorry.”
If it’s an acquaintance and you don’t intend to do anything, that’s it. (And it’s OK to leave it at that. We”ll be getting to “Assignments.”)
A fire is scary and interesting—believe me, I know—but now is not the time to ask questions or share that story about your brother’s, girlfriend’s, uncle’s house fire, especially in front of your friend’s children. If your friend’s fire has brought up your own fears about fire, or experiences with trauma and loss, I’m so sorry and that would be a good thing to keep under your hat or wait to share with another friend. Personally I am a long talking over-sharer, so no judgment, but let’s aim higher.
If you really want to do something say:
“I’d like to bring you something. Is there someone organizing things?”
If you plan to give your friend money, just hand it to her. Write a check or go to your bank and take out some cash.
The day of our fire, when my husband and I came back to talk to the investigator, we were constantly interrupted by people stopping to express concern. It was great or terrible, depending on the person.
One lady, who lives about a mile away and was in a Bible study with my sister years before, hopped out of her car and handed me a bank envelope full of money. She briefly told me who she was, said she was so sorry, handed me the envelope and ran back to her car. She was there all of ten seconds. It was weird, we both felt awkward and it was the nicest thing in the world.
If you do this and your friend/acquaintance says, “We’re fine. We have good insurance.” You say:
“Oh I’m so glad. I really want you to have this.”
If your friend/acquaintance has it together enough to just say, “Thank you” you say:
It really isn’t so much what we say—in the early days, especially—it’s what we decide to keep to ourselves, and what we do that makes the difference.
I’ll tell you what not to say tomorrow.