“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. Continue reading