“Sorrow” by Van Gogh via Wikicommons
No one ever knows what to say.
“You’ll be okay.”
“Hang in there.”
“You’re one of the strong ones.”
“You can beat this.”
“I know just how you feel.”
Don’t get me wrong: the impulse to reach out, offer support, be there, wherever “there” is—is priceless. And appreciated.
“Dammit to hell!”
Anglo-Saxon curses have the advantage of capturing the utter baseness of the predicament: inelegant, infuriating, rough, raw. They address the senselessness of it all–whatever “it” is. Unfortunately, they lose potency after awhile. This sucks. True. Next…
How do we address bad news—grief, loss, sorrow, the pain of someone we know, admire, respect and genuinely like? How can we help?
Here’s what I learned: for every event (good and bad, I suppose, but let’s deal with the bad), a circle of affectedness is created. In the middle of the circle is the person who has taken a direct hit: the patient, the bereaved; the forever changed. He (or she) is the one who’s been shoved over the line in the sand they hadn’t even seen, kicked onto another path, dealing with the “before” and “after” of a timeline with a new wrinkle. Hit by a crashing wave, he struggles to the surface.
Actually, that’s my metaphor; we each have our own. But we’re not at the center of this particular story. We are somewhere else in the circle; further from the middle than the family and loved ones whose lives will also need to proceed along a new trajectory’; further perhaps than the colleagues, co-workers, close friends.
Our place in the circle isn’t insignificant. We’re pulled in by our genuine affection for the central figure. His pain isn’t our pain, but we hate his pain and we want to make it smaller. Our place in the circle matters, oh yes it does.
“What can I do?”
What I mean is: Don’t require of your flailing friend that he recommend to you the means of his rescue. He can’t tell you.
Do what you do best. Bake a cake, send a book; share a link, share information. Stay close, stay in the picture.
Expect nothing; know your support means everything. Be you. Be funny, be loving, be resourceful, be present. Be normal.