You know that feeling when something terrible happens to someone you know and you don’t know what do so… So you just say nothing?  Then eventually the roles are reversed and something awful happens to you.  Something that will alter your life and the way you see the world and no one seems to notice and certainly no one says anything to you.

Then it happens…

You realize the worst thing to do is say nothing.  And you wish someone would just say something.  ANYTHING.  Just so that you know that there is another person on the planet that sees what you’re going through sucks/hurts/is awful.

Let’s start with what NOT to say:

I feel like most of us say nothing because we are terrified of saying the wrong thing.  So let’s cover that first.

A few years ago, I met a brilliant, loving, soft spoken woman who died young from cancer.  She used to laugh with me about the horrible things people would say to her when they learned that she had terminal cancer.  She used to joke that she could fill entire book with what NOT to say to a person who just told you they are dying.

Quick list:

  1. My dog had that!  And she’s fine now.
  2. Eww!!  Gross!
  3. I don’t care.
  4. I’m sure you’ll be fine.

First, if you are anything like me, you cherish your four legged children.  That said, most humans who are hurting or sick will not find it terribly comforting to know that something when well for a different species.  It makes you seem as though you really do not get how hard it is to walk intros person’s shoes.  Also, the ‘and she’s fine now’ bit can feel really dismissive.

Second, telling someone that it’s gross is just mean!

Hopefully, number three needs no further discussion but just in case… If you have nothing nice or respectful to say, then keep your trap shut.

And last but not least… “I’m sure you will be fine.”  This one is probably the most well intentioned of them all and potentially the most hurtful.  When someone shares something painful or scary like, ‘I have cancer,’ ‘my family member died,’ or ‘I was discriminated against’…  “I’m sure you’ll be fine” is really dismissive and tells that person two things; you don’t get it and you don’t care.

What can you say?

ASK!!!  Ask about what that’s like!  Ask what they need!  We all have a need to feel seen and understood. If you don’t know what to say, ask a question.

“Can I do anything for you?”

“What do you need?”

“Can I be helpful?”

Still stuck?

Say, “I don’t know what to say.”  THAT is waaaayyyy better than ignoring the elephant in the room.  The person who is hurting probably doesn’t’ know what to say either!  And you won’t leave them feeling ignoring and unimportant.

As always, I’m here.  If you are ready to live your best life, call me and let’s get started!

When You Don’t Know What to Say…