When my parents died, there were many things said to me that I forgot within minutes. I can't recall a single encouraging word. I do remember the hugs, pats and hand holding. I do remember the people who brought food, and the people who sat all night with my Dad in his final days. I do remember the people who drove for hundreds of miles just to be there with me.
That said, words are important. Words are complementary to our physical expression of love and caring. I have preached sermons for Christians and non-Christians alike. I believe that the things I said brought some encouragement to the families, if only for a brief time. One practice that I thought would ease their pain in the days ahead was to write my eulogies. Even though I never write out my sermons, I found that people greatly appreciated the copies of the funeral sermons that I made for the family members. I know that some have kept those for years, so that they can read them over and over again.
Words have their greatest impact when they are heard or written time and time again. That is why I think that what we say to someone who is depressed should be said more than once. Those who have attended my teacher training classes have heard me say, "The key to learning is repetition, repetition, repetition." It is not enough to say to someone who is struggling, "I'm thinking of you," and then to go away feeling as though we have "done our duty." The greater the pain that someone is in, the more frequently we should give encouragement.
It's sad that insults and criticisms stick in our mind like cockleburrs, but kindnesses are quickly forgotten. Perhaps that fact should remind those of us who so desperately need to be encouraged that we also have some responsibility in preserving the memory of gentle words.