the months since my mom’s diagnosis have been a catalyst for growth and change, though i admittedly didn’t want any of it to happen this way. out of the dozens of lessons He’s thrust in front of me since november, what not to say sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. i’ve learned quickly what i will try my absolute hardest never to say to someone with a parent or loved one who is ill or in crisis. individuals seem to feel exceptionally free and forthcoming with whatever wisdom or advice they feel i need, and it isn’t always an easy pill to swallow. their intentions, i’m convinced, are as pure as can be. unfortunately, it doesn’t alleviate the sting of their occasionally insensitive remarks – some of which i’ll share at the end.
i decided to poll my friends and followers on twitter several days ago, asking them what they dislike hearing from others when in a situation that resembles mine. the replies i received were insightful and raw.
ronnica: “everything will be okay.” how do you know?
ashley: “i know what you’re going through.”
dana: it’s tough having romans 8:28 quoted time and again, even though it’s true.
addison: “i know how you feel. this one time, …” no one can know how you feel, so don’t compare your story to mine.
heather: i hate hearing, “i know how you feel.” no matter how similar it could have been, everyone reacts differently.
kristina: when people die and others say, “they’re in a better place now,” that really bothers me because it’s often not true.
justin: “it’s going to be okay.” what does saying that even accomplish? nothing. i’d rather hear realism. sometimes it’s best to do what job’s friends did before they opened their stupid mouths, and just be quietly present.
jonathan: i dislike hearing “everything happens for a reason.” it doesn’t make me feel any better thinking it was supposed to happen.
veronica: “it’s God’s will.”
sarah: the worst is, “i’m sorry.” and, “why do bad things happen to good people?”
linn: “don’t worry. it’s going to be okay. you will see.” this is what i don’t want to hear if a beloved person is ill or in need!
kelly: “God will take care of it.” God also allows people to pass away. and please, don’t say, “i’m praying for you” if you’re really never going to.
i’ve been told several times to think positive thoughts, to be strong for my mother instead of showing my fear, or that this isn’t the end of the world. though these and other utterances are surely intended to put things in perspective for me, that isn’t what i’m looking for. and while i’ve only been asked how i’m doing with everything a couple of times, i’ve discovered that no one wants to hear the truth. insensitivity hurts so much more when emotions are already magnified by an illness or hardship.
where does this leave us, then, who will all undoubtedly one day be in a position where someone we know is suffering? be geniuine. be sensitive. pray with us intead of saying you’ll pray for us later. ask what you can specifically do to help with practical needs, rather than telling us you’re available if we ask. listen. don’t ask how we feel unless you’re prepared to hear the answer in a loving way. don’t feel the need to offer advice or instruction. don’t make promises you have no way of fulfilling for us. if you feel uncomfortable or don’t know what to say, say nothing. often, the best thing to do is be quietly present.