I was at a friend’s house last week. She has cancer is awaiting a double mastectomy. Her family and friends have flocked to her side–like birds heading South and all landing at the same lake–cars lined her driveway all hours of the day and night. She is surrounded, and I’m glad for her. I know she has a network–she is respected, appreciated, and dearly loved.
But that doesn’t mean someone won’t make an ass out of themselves.
I don’t mean it in a “I would never say something that stupid” way because trust me, I’ve been known to say a few blunders in my day/ But I watched and listened as someone said,
“If this were going to happen to anyone, then God sure did pick a strong person because you have so much faith–it’s amazing.”
I wanted to smack that person on the side of the head like they do in those V-8 commercials.
I know what this person meant, but faith or lack of faith has little to do with the situation. You don’t get cancer because you’re strong enough to handle it. If that’s the case, then sign me up with the punies, wusses, and scaredy-cats while I duck all the terrible life bombs that get hurled at those “strong people.” Still, my heart went out to this well-meaning person. We’ve all said less than helpful/cheerful things at just the wrong time.
So, I’ve compiled a “What Not to Say” List:
God knew you could handle it. (God ((and I don’t mean it, really)) was wrong)
You’re so strong. (If I’m weak does that mean I don’t have to go through this?)
Your baby/husband/child was so special that God took him (God gets blamed for a lot, apparently–no wonder we have issues with “Him.”
I could never do what you do. (I had no choice)
You’ll find love again. (Back off–I’m not ready to go there)
It’s better this way. (Is it?)
At least they’re out of pain. (But I’m not)
He/She had a good long life–it was time. (Who gets to be the judge of that?)
If there’s anything I can do for you, just call. (Figure out what needs doing and do it.
So What Do You Say?
- Sometimes nothing. Just a hello, maybe a gentle smile or hug–play it by ear and see if they’ve been bombarded all day.
- If it’s appropriate, say, ‘I’m sorry that Bill died.” Don’t be afraid of the word, “died.” Or go with a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
- Let the bring up their loved one. Some people just can’t talk about it for awhile and others find it cathartic.
- Send a card–tell them you’re thinking of them, love them, holding them in your thoughts–something about them. If you’re close and want to be more personal, then share a good memory–something in writing they’ll be able to keep.
- Be sensitive. If there’s something you seeor they need, or find difficult doing, then volunteer to help them out–clean gutters, help them take items to the Goodwill, ride with them on errands–every one has something that’s hard for them to do alone.
- Be there in the weeks and months to follow–grieving is a long process–and even though they have to go on with their lives, return to work and activities doesn’t mean they’re “over it.”
Finally, be patient. Your friend/loved one/co-worker who has experienced a death may act erratic at times. They may be testy, nervous, anxious one minute–only to be followed by teary, hot-headed or depressed the next. I heard one person describe grief as if they’re wearing their nerve endings on the inside-out. Don’t take their mood swings personal. Listen well and be their steady companion through this difficult journey.
And if you screw up and say something dumb, just apologize. A quick, “Hey, that didn’t come out right” will be quickly forgiven. And forgive yourself. It’s more important to try and flub, than to avoid.