With my mom’s sickness and subsequent passing, I have had tons of good people pour out of the woodwork with sweet words, listening ears, sympathy cards, and more. Messages saying, “We’re here for you,” “Thinking of you,” “There are no words, but you are in our prayers,” “Your mom was an amazing woman, but you knew that,” and “Please know, you are an amazing daughter.” To anyone that said anything close to any of the above, thank you beyond. You kept me going, whether or not I wrote back right away or at all.
In her sickness and passing, however, I have also learned some people don’t know the right things to say. Some people just think of themselves, not you. Some even deal with grief by getting angry and intentionally hurtful. Like they’re so confused and upset inside, they push the excess onto an easy target, even one that’s already suffering. In tragedy, people’s true selves emerge and then some. A very wise Buddha-loving nurse I know so eloquently told me that months ago. And she was so right.
Not so fondly reminiscing some awful things people have actually said to me, I put together a list of things that are better left unsaid to one who is obviously depressed, grieving, or hurting in some way:
“I know what you’re going through.”
My response to that? No, you don’t. But I don’t have the guts to say that aloud. I’m bolder when I’m writing. But seriously, Never, ever tell someone that you know what it feels like to be them. Everyone struggles, but nobody’s struggle is the same. If you knew a person whose brother-in-law’s friend had some kind of cancer, you certainly do not know what it feels like. Even if you, too, had a mom and best friend who suffered and died with glioblastoma, you don’t know what it feels like in my shoes. You don’t have the same exact family dynamics, you don’t have my same coping skills or lack thereof, and you don’t have my heart or my head. If your intention was to say, “I am so sorry. I know a person who had glioblastoma. It’s a horrific disease. Please know that we are thinking of you, you are not alone, and if you ever need someone to talk to, we are here for you,” then say that.
One person at my mom’s wake who was apparently with a friend of my mom but didn’t even personally know my mom told me *at the wake* how she knows “exactly” how I feel, because in a few weeks she will be a five-year cancer survivor. I’m still dumbfounded by her tactlessness. Seriously, people.
“This is so hard for me. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.”
Two of my mom’s very good friends have actually said this to me on numerous occasions. I have no idea how you would want me to handle that dagger or to respond to it. I am sorry it’s so hard for you, but I just lost my mom. I helped take care of her for 21 months and was there almost every day. She was my best friend for 27 years, and if I haven’t mentioned it already, she was my mom. My mom just died, and you have the audacity to tell me how hard it is for you that she’s gone. Even if that’s true, this statement would fall under the category of “things better left unsaid.” If it’s not necessary, true, or kind, it shouldn’t be uttered.
“How are you doing?” or “How are you hanging in there?”
I know these are very common phrases and niceties in America. But when someone is going through hell on earth, I finally get it. He or she does not want to admit or even think about how awful they feel. I don’t want to respond with the truth. I don’t want to say, “I’m depressed. It sucks.” I don’t know what else to say though. Which brings me to my next phrase…
“Why haven’t you responded to me?”
The sicker my mom got, the more depressed I got and the more withdrawn I became. Also, the more time I spent with her, the less time I spent doing basic activities of living like sleeping. I also genuinely got extremely forgetful and distracted. Some days I forgot to brush my teeth and put shoes on before leaving the house. I completely forgot to attend a meeting at work. Luckily, my boss is wonderful and understanding.
Anyway, I could be a professional at putting on a smile during hard times, laughing in uncomfortable situations, and putting on a brave face. That doesn’t mean I’m not hurting terribly inside. Most people have been totally understanding if I didn’t have time to get together or didn’t have the energy to respond quickly or at all. Sometimes I didn’t respond because I didn’t want to tell you a lie but I also didn’t want to sound like Debbie Downer. Some people have taken my silence personally. Please know it’s not about you. I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. I’m just trying to get through the day.
“We would do just fine without you.”
I am going to be brazenly honest right now. A very close family member who I am not going to name actually said that to me. They said loads of hurtful, horrible statements during my mom’s sickness that no person should ever hear and especially not from someone who supposedly loves you. But of all the name-calling and in-your-face screaming I received from this person, that comment independently killed me inside.
I prided myself on taking damn good care of my mom and trying to ensure her happiness, health, and safety throughout her sickness and to her final day. To intentionally say something that is hurtful to someone that is already hurting so deeply is downright despicable.
Here’s a sidebar. Robin Williams just took his own life a day or two ago. I presume it was because he was hurting so much inside that he couldn’t take it anymore and couldn’t fathom any other way to make his suffering end. Obviously, I’m not Mr. Williams, and I won’t pretend to know what he felt like. But I do know for certain that the two newscasters who bashed him following his death were plain mean. One even called Mr. Williams a coward. That’s unnecessary, untrue, and unkind. Kind people don’t kick others when they’re down. They offer them a hand or a hug to lift them up.
So that’s my spiel. More like a vent. If someone is hurting, grieving, or just really missing their mom, please be gentle with your word. Remember they’re already fragile. Let them know you’re there for them. Send a random text to them during the day that says, “I love you.” Try to make them laugh. And let them know you care.