Sometimes well-meaning people do bad things. Let’s work together to not be one of those…

i have two good friends who have recently faced different kinds of grief – one is desperately sick at the moment and the other lost his mom a couple of weeks back. They are surrounded by a lot of well-meaning people. Which sounds like a good thing. But sometimes it’s not. Here are a few things i’ve learnt/observed:


[1] When you are facing a traumatic experience, there is often a lot of admin.  People who mean well want to know what is happening. People who mean well want to help. And this usually falls on the primary relationship people – the spouse or the sibling or the parents or the children. And in a time when they are the people who need to be able to just be and feel and process and spend time with and grieve, they are inundated by requests and comments and messages and questions. Your question/comment/request is not too much on its own. But add it to 50 more in the last hour and try and imagine what that is like.

i recently saw one of the best friends take over that role. Quick Watsapp group formed and all necessary information is passed through the group. No contacting the individuals involved. You will get what you need to know from the group. And unless you are the inner ring of most favourite people of that person [and get over it if you’re not!] realise that you don’t get to know everything. This is one of the hugest forms of respect we can give to someone in that situation – just backing off and giving them room.

Close friends and extended family, this is a chance for you to step up. Commandeer the phone [if they let you], start up a watsapp or email or facebook group and take the admin out of their hands.


[2] Do what is helpful for them, not you. i was with a friend this week who is facing some tough stuff – as i was about to leave i asked her if i could give her a hug. She said yes and as i hugged her she said, “Thanks for asking. There are so many who don’t.” That made me so sad [and angry]. When someone we know and love is in a lot of pain and hurt, we really need to check our motives – is this hug i am demanding for them or for me? What can i do that is best for them? Maybe it means not visiting or not hugging or simply asking if i can do either.

A powerful way to get involved at a time like this is to find a way to ask if you can make them a meal. Again go through their best friend or chief support – they are probably facing some huge life-changing decisions at this time and don’t need one more so even ,”Can i make you a meal?” can likely feel overwhelming. But if their closest friend is able to put together a week or two of different people dropping off a meal [and picking up the dirty dishes!] every day that might help in lifting a huge burden off of their shoulders.

i asked my friend if she wanted a place to stay as we have a spare room. She declined and my job then is to honour that. i know that i would prefer to be by myself if such a situation happened to me, but i also want her to know the option is there if she wants it.

Keep asking, “What can i do that is best for them?”

[3] For Christian friends in particular, think twice before uttering that Hallmark Greeting Card nonsense. This is where i move closer to punch-someone-in-the-face territory cos this makes me so mad. We have a tendency as humans to panic when we don’t know what to say and so questions like, “So what do you do?” happen when we meet new people and have absolutely no interest in knowing what they do. But when it comes to times of trauma, sickness and death we can say some of the most hurtful thoughtless things in the name of caring. Think twice before you say anything that might be hurtful. Don’t give promised to people that may prove to not be true. If you’re not sure then maybe stand in front of a mirror by yourself and say what you’re thinking of saying and try and imagine what it would be like to hear that thing.

Emile McDowell has come up with a series of Empathy Cards which help you express what you really mean to people suffering with cancer, and these give you a helpful example of the kinds of things that might be more okay to express.


But maybe the lesson there is if you don’t know what to say, then say nothing. If visiting does feel like a good thing [check on that – having ten people pitch up at once can feel overwhelming and also take away from the time the loved ones get to spend with their person] then it’s okay just to be there and spend time and not need to say anything great.

If you love or care for someone, as most of the guilty parties in these situations do, then take some extra time to really ask how best can you serve those who are hurting most at this time? And then do that – and help keep those who don’t ‘get it’ out of the way… maybe your biggest act of love is going to be an act of running interference and keeping out the shtupidts!

i’m sure there are more – if you are someone who has gone through loss or grief, what are some other things people did that were particularly hard or unwelcome for you, and was there anything someone did that was particularly helpful or encouraging? Leave a response in the comments. 

[For the Second Part with some more specific advice, click here] 

Captain Jack Unhelpful Quote