“It’s sad, so sad; it’s a sad, sad situation, and it’s getting more and more absurd.
It’s sad, so sad; why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me, that sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
– John & Taupin. All rights reserved.
We’ve all been there; that awkward moment at the funeral home or in the hospital, or elsewhere, where our want to express SOMETHING – something kind, something meaningful, something appropriate – gets washed away by saying something really inappropriate, such as:
“You’ll have more children.”
“It was God’s will.”
“God needed another angel.”
“You still have your other children.”
“You’ll survive; you always do.”
“He/she lived a long life.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
What do we do (or not do) and say (or not say) when someone is in great pain?
What Not to Do
- Ignore the person. “Surely they are already swamped by other well-wishers.” “I don’t know what to do/say, so I’ll do/say nothing.”
- Give long-term advice. If asked, a kind, “Perhaps you should take some time to think about it,” is appropriate.
- Send regrets via a) Facebook, b) Twitter, c) e-mail, d) text message. Remember, we are talking about someone CLOSE to you!
- Do extraordinary things that the hurting person or someone close to him or her did not ask you to do. The house may not need another tray of lunchmeat. That photo montage you thought was precious may bring unintended pain. Your gently used linens are awesome, but they don’t have a bed, let alone a queen-size bed.
What to Do
- Be in touch. If you truly believe this would be overwhelming, send a note card or make a phone call. Either can be dealt with when there is time and the will.
- Be in touch later. Often there is a rush of kindness when the event occurs, but it is in the coming weeks, months, and years that hurting people need a friend. (Hint: Write anniversaries of painful events down so you will not forget them.) You may think people do not want to be reminded, but the opposite is often true. I often contact people “the week of” so it is easier to Segway into why I am calling.
- Offer assistance. A simple, “What do you need?” is a powerful question. Asking, “What can I do?” is not the same thing.
- “Just” be present. Don’t feel like you have to talk.
- If you know the person’s religious beliefs, offer to do something meaningful that reflects that tradition (pray, light a candle, etc.). If you do not know, and I cannot stress this enough, do NOT make assumptions. Ask if you can pray, light a candle, etc.
What Not to Say
- Any of the previously mentioned statements, all of which are often said in a very well-meaning manner.
- “I know just how you feel.” No, you don’t. Everyone processes situations differently.
- Any story that compares this person’s feelings to yours or anyone else’s. See previous item.
What to Say
- “I’m sorry.”
- “I’m here if you need to talk, scream, laugh, or anything else.” Then be there. Listen.
- Ask, “What do you need?”
- If the pain is over a person that you are sure there was a good relationship with, ask sometime in the coming weeks, “How did you meet?” “What were some of the fun things you did together?” “What were some of his/her funny habits or sayings?”
This month’s synchroblog is on giving suggestions for what to do (or not do) and what to say (and not say) in love and caring for those around us who are experiencing great personal loss, pain, tragedy, or disaster. For other responses, see:
- Comforting those who Hurt – K. W. Leslie
- Unto the Least of These – J. Stahl
- Like a Motherless Child – Carol Kuniholm
- Exploding Bridges and How to Help People – Phil Lancaster
- The Ministry of Presence – Glenn Hager
- The Problem of Pain – Chris Jefferies
- How to Be with Those in Pain – David Derbyshire
- What Seems to Help in the Midst of Pain – Kathy Escobar
- Mourning with those who Mourn – Jeremy Myers
- What He Told The Home Crowd – Tim Nichols