Monday, July 23, 2018

Handling the Hurricane: Dealing with the Words of the Well-Intentioned

Everybody is going through something.

Sometimes our crises are private. At other times -- such as when a loved one is fighting a losing battle with death -- others are well aware of our storms.

When WunderGuy was in hospice care, dying by degrees, one of the truths I discovered was: Most People Don't Have a Clue What to Say to Someone in Crisis.

Which led to the next truth: If My Life is Falling Apart, I Need Not Suffer Fools.

I hope you don't need the information in this post now. But you might want to bookmark it for future reference. I pray you'll never need it. But in case you do, here are some thoughts on handling those awkward conversations:

When tragedy strikes, people often say things they haven't run through a brain-to-mouth filter. Usually it's because they feel they should say something but they don't know what.

In case you need to hear this, I am giving you permission to tell these people to stop talking. When they start saying things like, "I can't imagine what you're going through" (which, of course, means "sucks to be you; you're living my worst nightmare"), you are perfectly entitled to shut them off and tell them, "no one's asking you to."

So many clichés fall into this category of Phrases People Speak Without Thinking:

"That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger." No. It bloody well doesn't.

"Everything happens for a reason." Who are you, Thomas freaking Paine?

and my personal favorite, "God won't give us more than we can handle." My fist is aching to cauliflower your nose. Let's see how you handle it...

People will blurt out the most brain-dead things. "Aren't you glad he's finally dead?" "Now you can  get on with your life." "You've grieved long enough."

Nowhere is it written that you are required to listen to them.

Some well-meaning souls will look earnestly at you and ask, "How ARE you doing?" As if you are going to suddenly open up your deepest, darkest fears to them and include them in your private anguish.

You do not need to do this. It's okay to lie and tell them you are fine. They are not entitled to your pain.

And then there are those who will feel compelled to tell you their horrible story, as if it will somehow make what you are going through okay.

I believe this is their way of trying to let you know they sympathize with you; telling you that they, too, have Been There.  But the stories never help. They only indulge the teller and rarely enrich the hearer. (I found this especially true when the Storyteller was a member of the clergy. One visited, unannounced, a few months ago, shortly after my mother's passing. She talked endlessly about her mother, and how devastated she was when her mother died. Then she brought up my WunderGuy and began to pontificate on how she didn't know what she would do without her husband. Forgive me, Father: I showed her the door.)

It is okay to say that you do not want to hear the story a person is telling.

You probably already know this, but I'm going to say it anyway: when in crisis, you do not need to be anyone's Entertainer, anyone's Confidante, anyone's Sounding Board, or anyone's Confessor.

Perhaps your upbringing makes you feel constrained from saying the words you really feel like slinging. News flash -- It's okay to say them. Whatever God you believe in has heard them all and can handle them.

Don't feel that you need to be a beacon of strength.

Lean on those you love. Find strength and support in friends and family.

And trust the truth of this one cliché:

This, too, shall pass.