January 25, 2011
In the doctor’s office today, I was reading this advice column and a woman had written in about her friend who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She wanted to know what she could say to her friend in response. The reply was a very good one and started out by saying something like, “Well, here’s a few things that you SHOULDN’T say to your friend…” I thought they were good things to avoid in grief, too.
1. 1. “I’m sure it will be fine.” Really? And how do you know? While most people think this is positive affirmation, it’s actually a subtle way of diminishing the other person’s fears and worries, not to mention diminishing the gravity of the situation. While you don’t want to retort with a horrified, “Oh my God, you’re going to die!” you don’t want to brush it off, either. This attitude frustrated me while I was pregnant with Toby and frustrates me now. Whenever something would go wrong people would say, “Oh, that happened to me-you’ll be okay.” And I wasn’t.
“Let me tell you about my aunt/mother/friend/cousin/co-worker who had the same thing…” This sounds like a good idea because it means that you’re trying to relate. Your friend doesn’t want to hear about all those people, though. They want to talk about their situation. When you start talking about yourself, or someone else, you’re taking the focus off your friend and they are telling you for a reason. I had a friend who, granted, was still very very upset about the death of their father from a couple of years before but every time I tried to talk about Toby with her she changed the subject to talk about her own experience. That might be fine now, but a week or two after his death it wasn’t. I wanted to talk about Toby. Obviously, she wanted to talk about her dad. We weren’t on the same wavelength.
3. “I know how you feel.” No, you don’t. Unless you have been in the same situation, you have no idea. In fact, you probably can’t even accurately imagine it.
What the article suggested that you do was to tell your friend that the situation stinks, that you’ll be there for them through the treatment and recovery, and that you’ll be on hand for any crappy movies that they want to watch or available to bring them any junk food or ice cream that they can eat.
I think that would be the most awesome reply every, myself.