By: Alicia Arseneault
This is the first of a series of “Pass The Etiquette Please” articles featuring Alicia Arsenault.
We’ve all been there. You know “that time” where you’ve said something to someone going through a difficult situation and then you wished you had the proverbial shoe or a small boat to shove down your throat? If you can’t relate, you’re the exception; let’s face it, most of us can. It’s natural for us to want to say something profound and meaningful when someone we care about is going through a tough time. We want to say something so badly (even though we have no clue what to say), so we open our mouths, start to speak and then in our nervous chatter we say something, or maybe things, that come out terribly wrong so we begin to panic and end up feeling like we’re trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube – it’s messy and ain’t pretty. I’ve been the one to say dumb things before but I have also been the recipient of some well-intended (and maybe some not-so-well-intended) “toothpaste goo moments” – believe me, there have been times where I wish I had a pamphlet to give titled “Things Not To Say In This Situation”. Most recently with the stillbirth of our son, many people came to us with “words of comfort” that often times felt like salt on an open wound. I am going to share with you a few of the many comments I heard several times by “well-intended” people who were hoping to offer comfort but actually caused more hurt.
WHEN TRAGEDY HAPPENS- WHAT NOT TO SAY
a) “At least you have (X) other beautiful children.” – Though this seems well meaning, it’s terribly hurtful. They had hopes and dreams for the child they’ve just lost and that precious child was just as much one of their children as their others are.
b) “You can always try again.” – Yes, maybe they can try again but even if they go on to have a hundred more children there will always be one missing.
c) “Well, my friend lost their baby at (X) number of weeks” – Don’t compare! A loss is a loss, whether it’s 4 weeks or 40 weeks. Trying to make your situation or the situation of someone you know seems worse than what that woman is facing is not going to bring comfort or make her feel better at all.
d) “Let me tell you about my experience with infant loss (right here and now)” – If you’ve faced a miscarriage or stillbirth and can sympathize with the grieving mother please don’t begin to tell her your story. Instead, simply say “I lost a child too” and offer to support her and share your story only when and if she is ready. Remember no two women grieve the same; some want to be alone and hearing the stories of others won’t help them grieve, and there are others who want nothing more than the stories of others to help them grieve but don’t assume.Make yourself available to the grieving mother by extending “an olive branch” of empathy. In my experience, when women began to share their stories of loss, their own emotions rose to the surface and I was left feeling overwhelmed and often times, it ended with me consoling them.
INSTEAD, HERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN SAY:
If you remember nothing else remember the “Golden Rule” – With tragedy “I’m so sorry” is enough.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
“I will be praying for you.”
“If you need anything call me.”
Saying less is best and less is more. If you’re still itching to do more, show the family that you care by buying them a gift card for a restaurant (we got these and were so grateful for them!), make and/or organize meals for them for awhile (be sure to remind the meal-makers to not linger during the drop off – mom and dad don’t want to have to tell their story at every dinner), send flowers, make a donation to a local charity in their baby’s name, offer to take the kids for a day, pick up basic groceries for the house (this is especially helpful if meals are being organized – they tend to run out of the essentials.)
Nobody wants to be “that” person that does more damage than good. When someone we love is going through a devastating trauma we genuinely want to help. We might feel that an “I’m so sorry”, or a hug isn’t enough but for many people, including those who are grieving, actions truly do speak louder than words. When our son died, the people who stood out the most (in a good way) are those that gave hugs, cried with us, organized meals, sent cards, did random acts of selfless kindness, but said very few words.