The three of them, met up on a glistening Spring day. They picnicked under blossom-covered branches with a gaggle of families. Their children danced in and out of their vision, as they caught up on the 8 months since they'd last seen each other.
They discussed jobs and childcare, picky eaters and their children's schools.
Dafna kept an eye on her three young kids as the conversation continued. Lindsay a pediatrician and Jack an accountant, avoided the one topic that hung heavily between the three of them:-
He had died 5 months earlier from a brain tumor.
Afterwards, Dafna would tell me, that it was incomprehensible to her, that Lindsay and Jack had said nothing to her on the subject.
Not a word.
Not an 'I'm sorry.' 'How are you doing?' or 'How are the children coping?'
She was flabbergasted that a family doctor didn't seem to know that it was important to say something.
Anything to acknowledge that since they'd last seen each other, Dafna's world and that of her children had been turned upside down.
I think we've all been there, in that no-man's land, where we don't know whether to bring up a tough subject with someone we know, but are not very close friends with…...
We know they are going through divorce or have a teen who has been diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness.
We hear about a young mother with breast cancer whose child is in our son's class, or a church member who has had a serious car accident.
Our neighbor is diagnosed with severe depression.
We are told about a baby born with a complex heart condition, a toddler diagnosed with autism or a spouse who has lost their job after 25 years with the same company.
We hesitate to ask about something so private, raw and out of our experience.
We worry about saying the wrong thing.
Will we ask a question that is prying or too personal, or write a note that may hit the wrong key?
If we do decide to offer our thoughts, how do we find the right words and the right moment?
Quite frankly, our fears often stop us.
Facing their grief, their despair, their uncertainty or their shock, particularly if the situation is something we can relate to, seems too difficult for us.
But here's the thing. If you are the person who is experiencing this challenging situation. This is your world. You can't escape it, turn it off or walk away.
You have to wake up every morning and find a way to get through the day. It can be a very frightening, lonely, painful journey. You learn who you can rely on and who disappears. Who has compassion and who can't deal with the pain.
It's black and white, when you are the one in the middle of trauma.
I've found that asking someone who's a very close friend with the person I want to contact, for some advice, has been very helpful.
When friends get bad news, there are no answers. We cannot solve the problems or make them go away. Nor are we expected to.
But I believe we should always acknowledge the situation if we are more than passing acquaintances.
Once you have taken that step, seeing each other again becomes easier for both of you.
So, what should you do to bring comfort, if you hear someone is dealing with a challenge?
Here are 12 suggestions for what to say and what to avoid.
1. The worst thing you can do, is say or do nothing. If you are in doubt, say something. Do not ignore your gut. Do not avoid them in the grocery store or cross the road rather than talk to them.
2. Do not describe your own experiences or tell the story of someone else you know. This is not about you.
3.Do not ask deeply personal questions, or comment on how things might have been different, such as:
"How long do you have to live?"
"Did you go to marriage counseling?"
"Well I had a miscarriage too, but luckily I had children to go back to."
"You don't look sick."
"Life goes on."
"Are you sure it's spread?"
"Why didn't you leave him sooner?"
4. Silver linings only comfort you. Not the recipient. Do not use them: "Well at least you know you can have children." " Well I'm glad he's not in pain anymore."
5. Do not offer solutions, alternative treatments, names of specialists or be dismissive with a phrase such as "It could be worse."
6. Do not say "If you need me you know you can call any time." People in crisis do not have any time. They are emotionally exhausted from getting through each day, responding to each challenge and juggling many responsibilities.
7. Speak from your heart. "I was so sorry to hear you are unwell."
You cannot make the situation better. That is not your job.
It is your acknowledgement of the situation and your presence that is most important. The words may be trite and for some "I'm sorry," does not work at all. But if you are sorry that they are going through this ordeal, I think most people will be comforted by this response.
8. It's ok to say "I don't know what to say. I have no words. I'm here to support you and I am thinking about you."
9. Look the person in the eye. Acknowledge that you know what has happened and ask how they are. Then stop and really listen to the answer. Validate their feelings, but do not offer solutions.
10. Offer practical help and to do specific tasks: carpool, meals,playdates, grocery shopping. Find out if there is someone coordinating a list of support. You can create one easily using the on-line tool Lotsa Helping Hands .
11. Keep in touch. Depending on the circumstances, offer to come over with a Starbucks, a hug and a listening ear and stay a little while.
Other options: - deliver a bunch of flowers, balloons, a bowl of soup. Cut up fruit or invite them over and make them scrambled eggs for lunch and listen.
Send a card, an email or a text, if it's difficult to speak to them.
12. Laughter has its place, as does talking about other things. Offer your compassionate words the first time you meet and then let your friend lead the conversation, in the direction she chooses.
What has been most comforting for you to hear, when you have been dealing with a tough situation?
What have you said that has been helpful in bringing comfort to others? Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.
Love to you all
(All names have been changed to preserve confidentiality.)
You may also find these posts comforting:
Desperate to Help Your Friend in Crisis? First Steps to Bringing Comfort.
You Are Not Alone: Finding Support When Life Gets Tough.
Getting Out of Bed. 5 Ideas to Help When It's Hard to Face the Day
6 Ways to Build Certainty in an Uncertain World
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