It can be difficult to know the right thing to do when tragedy strikes a friend or loved one. So much so that people avoid the afflicted person or keep their distance.
The best advice I ever received in this regard was to “Just show up.” When a person is in the midst of a personal trauma, they are generally not shy about letting you know what they want, or don’t want. By showing up, you don’t have to decide what the best move is. They’ll let you know.
Knowing the right thing to do is difficult. But knowing what not to do is much simpler. I pass along these suggestions on behalf of those I know who have — unfortunately — experienced each of them.
When someone you know has experienced a tragedy, DON’T:
- Say, “I know how you feel. I almost died once.” Or, “My dog died recently.” Or “My husband left me.” Attempting to establish that you know how they feel by equating something in your life to their tragedy is never a good idea. Better to show you care by being present and listening.
- Say, “I can’t believe that you showed up here. I would be such a mess.” If your intent is to compliment them on their fortitude, just say that. Otherwise you run the risk of sounding judgmental about how they are grieving.
- Overstep your bounds. If you are a casual acquaintance, it’s untoward to ask detailed questions about how the person died. Likewise, starting the conversation with, “My daughter is under the impression your husband died.” is never appropriate. And in the case of an accidental death, don’t ask if it was a suicide.
- Call and ask if they can give your daughter a ride to the funeral…especially if you’ve only met them once. Your job is to make their life easier, not for them to make yours easier.
- Say, “Don’t worry. You’ll get married again.” Or, “Now that you’re single, we can go out.” I don’t have to explain further, do I?
- Complain that you didn’t get a copy of the memorial video. It’s not the Oscars; there’s no gift bag.
- Show some respect at the funeral. Don’t take pictures at the gravesite, don’t get drunk at the reception, and never, ever, EVER tell the widow she looks “hot”.
Again, as outrageous as these examples may seem, each of them actually happened to someone I know.
We all react to tragedy differently. Let’s make sure that whatever reaction we have is appropriate, and keeps the grieving party foremost in our hearts and minds.
Today’s Fact Cetera
A person is capable of making more than 1,000 different facial expressions.