Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Friends lost a young child to a terminal illness, and one half of the couple has recently divulged publicly a list of things people said to them that they “shouldn’t” have. Among what not to say were things that seem to me to be authentic sentiments like, “I haven’t said anything because I don’t know what to say,” “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” “You’re so strong,” or even calling your own living children certain nicknames that have special meaning to parents of deceased children.
Learning that my (and others’) efforts of verbal support may have had unintended consequences rubs me the wrong way. Where is the border between having on blinders due to grief and not realizing that people are just trying their best, versus unreasonable expectations for others to say exactly what you want to hear? Are these statements that you’re really not supposed to say to people dealing with such tragedy?
Told What Not to Say
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It has been well established in this forum and others that well-meaning words at times of grief can easily be, or just be perceived as, insensitive. And, what is the perfect thing to say to one grieving person is a slap in the face to another.
Because these friends just lost a child, I think the best way to approach it is with a free pass. They’re devastated. Their pain is spilling over the loss itself and onto everything related to the loss. You, as the not- (or less-) devastated party, are the one who is able to absorb this, so just absorb it.
Dear Carolyn: My ex is marrying the woman he cheated on me with, and I’m happy for them. Hindsight has helped me understand that Ex and I were totally wrong for each other and everything worked out for the best.
Then, yesterday, I got an invitation to their wedding. To say I was surprised is an understatement. I’m free to RSVP “not attending” and forget about this, right?
The Ex at the Wedding
Yep. Congratulations on your equanimity and insight. Your work is done here.
Dear Carolyn: My friend and I live in different cities, so don’t see each other often, but we do talk on the phone often (usually initiated by her when she’s driving to/from work). I enjoy our chats, but I also make an effort to visit her and to attend celebrations for her and her family’s life-events. She has older children, I have none. At the very least, I will send a gift.
She simply does not reciprocate. I love her, but I feel that it’s unfair that the friendship is on her terms, with no effort to connect in ways that are meaningful to me. I’ve already told her that I wish she visited me, that it hurts my feelings when she says she will attend an event but then doesn’t. I guess I don’t know what the next step is after you ask someone you love for something, and they can’t give it.
Having already articulated your needs, you now either continue the friendship on the available terms, or you end it. Bluntly stated, but that’s the crossroads you’ve reached.
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