Someone you know has just suffered the death of a family member or close friend. Or is struggling through a serious disease. What do you do? What do you say?

Yesterday i wrote a post giving what i suspect were some helpful ideas, especially if you are not the closest person in the situation so take a read of them over hereBut i also had some comments from some people who have been or are going through this at the moment, which are invaluable in terms of helping us deal with these situations with the utmost respect and love:

My sister-in-law Shana:

Really well written! I think people do/say really unhelpful things often in these situations, even though their intentions and heart are in the right place. I think it’s great to hear this from someone who’s walked a road with people who are going through really rough stuff, and has seen what hurts them in those situations!

Also, to add to the list (if I may), please don’t tell someone “I know how you feel” if you really really don’t. Once upon a time when mom was really ill and we were really uncertain about how much time she had left a ‘friend’ said “I know how you feel. The dog I’ve had since I was 8 has cancer and might die”. Because, you know, that’s the same thing. #yesthatreallyhappened

My friend Stacey:

I think I could add two things here. Firstly, I once read (wish I remembered where) that dealing with tragedy in community, we should think in terms of ripples or concentric circles. The person/people at the centre should be supported by those closest to them. Then these closest people need the next ring of community to support them (and not jump straight into the middle), and so on and on. Not only does this model protect the innermost from being overwhelmed, but it also insures that others in the situation get the support they so need, as they look after their loved ones. Sometimes you are helping the person at the middle most by caring for those most dear to them.

Secondly, the “how are you?” question is tough and not always helpful or easy to answer. Sometimes, the small change to “how are you at the moment/right now?” can make a difference.

My friend Susan:

Yes to it all. I’m finding it hard though with people who don’t hug. Have experienced little to no compassion this side of the world and it is vey hard. I think the best thing is to be humble, servant hearted and loving your brother more than yourself, after all it is about them and not you.

I think everyone needs a little more love and selflessness. Over and out from Americaland.

Janet, commenting on the previous post:

Love this, Brett. 100%. My mom was murdered almost 5 years ago, and while most people were awesome, I also had some horrific encounters that led me to coin the term “gore whores” for people who callously demanded details from me. I was truly touched by the fact that her cell members and friends from church fed us for a month afterwards, and came to help entertain my son, who was 2 at the time.

So in Summary:

[1] When you are facing a time of tragedy/death, there is often a lot of admin – DON’T ADD TO THE ADMIN! – ask the question, how can my words/actions/silence make this easier for the people closest to the pain.

[2] Do what is helpful for THEM, not you. Maybe when someone you know is facing one of these situations it will be helpful if you get into the habit of repeating the mantra, “This is not about me. This is not about me. This is NOT about me.” Sometimes our tears and emotions can be unhelpful for those closest – not saying we shouldn’t have them or express them, but sometimes choosing where we let our main grief flow can be an act of love over one of selfishness where the person closest to the grieving can feel responsible for making sure I’m okay when it’s really not about me.

[3] Think SO CAREFULLY before you speak. Often silence and presence is more than enough. [Sometimes absence even better]. But saying the wrong thing can be far worse than saying nothing at all. Think before you open your mouth. Don’t make it worse.

[4] Don’t tell someone you know how they feel. You may have had a similar experience and have some idea but in this moment in this case you don’t know how they feel. Especially if your feeling was about an animal once. Stoppit!

[5] Try and figure out where you fit into the ripple/concentric circle and act accordingly. If you met them once at a party and had a good conversation, get out of the way of the person that has known them since they were 11. And look to comfort the person who had two good conversations at two parties.

[6] “How are you?” is a tough question so steer clear, although “How are you doing right now?” is a better offer. Most questions are going to be tough at this time so try and steer clear of asking those directly affected. Best friends and extended family, this is an opportunity for you to step up and shield the admin and questions and responsibilities.

[7] Don’t be a Gore Whore! You don’t get to demand details and you don’t have a right to be informed of every last detail. This ties in with the ripples and circles – the closer you are to the person affected, the more you get to hear/know/do and so figure that one out and act accordingly. But let those closest decide how much everyone else gets to be involved.

Graeme jumped in and had a confirmation on point three and also a bit of a different perspective on what to say:

Couldn’t agree more on the “Hallmark Greeting” point – no matter how TRUE it may be that “all things work together” or “Suffering produces endurance” or “consider it pure joy” or “God is in control” or “God has a plan”, it is not HELPFUL when your world is falling apart to have your grief and heartache dismissed with a glib, pithy phrase. In time, I have come to understand the truth of those words, right now, I just need to grieve.

Regarding not knowing what to say and/or saying the wrong thing – the absolute worst thing you can do is avoid saying anything, even saying the wrong thing is better than pretending my grief doesn’t exist. There is no “right thing” to say – nothing you say will change the circumstances of my grief, so don’t try – long after I have forgotten the content of your speaking, I will remember that you cared enough to say something. So speak, be sensitive to how your words may be received, say “I don’t know what to say” if necessary, but say something, be present, enfold…

Anything we’ve missed off of this list? If you are someone who has suffered loss or had someone you love struggling with a serious disease or condition, can you add any positive ideas of what was helpful/beneficial to you in this time? 

[Some friends of mine who lost people they loved have shared their stories over here]