Recently, a Pune newspaper carried an article about an obituary of a gentleman, in which it was notified that the funeral and last rights will be private, and the family wouldn’t meet people for a month for condolences. This went viral, was widely discussed and criticised. It got me thinking.
When I lost my father, we had many visitors to pay last respects and they talked about his life and how good of a person he was. They all meant well, and they had come to support my mom, but after they left, she was really relieved. She said that now she can sit peacefully. Someone has just lost their spouse and it’s a huge shock. A life altering event which is fresh, raw and unprocessed. That person is in daze. They are not in any position to listen. Just holding their hand, giving them a warm hug or caressing their back will do better than any spoken words. Her interesting observation was that once the funeral and other rights were done and when she really needed someone to talk to, there was no one!
In her book, Option B, Sherryl Sandbergh, COO, Facebook talks about her life after losing her husband. One point that stayed with me was how she used to be put off if anybody asked her “how are you?’ She would rather have people ask her “how are you today?” Someone who has lost a dear one or who is going through adjusting phase after that, will have good days and bad days. They will experience some good moments during the day and some in which they will be in despair. Their answer cannot be “I am fine.”
It’s really a valid point. We are programmed to ask, “how are you?”, when we meet someone going through a struggle. The answer most of the time is “I am fine” or “I am good” and most of the time both the parties know the answer is not the truth.
Let’s accept it, having a conversation with a person who is going through a tough situation is very awkward. In that awkwardness, we end up saying things that makes that person even more depressed. We really need to think of what we say and not just in adverse situations, but also in good ones. I am listing few popular comforting lines we end up saying and why we need to rephrase them and how.
Stop Crying: This is the least effective comforting line ever! People cry as its their natural reaction when something is going wrong or even right. It’s a bodily reaction, just like when people break into a sweat when they get a unpleasant news. We never say stop sweating to them and we should also not say stop crying. Most of the time, it has an exact opposite effect. People cry more and louder, when they are told to stop crying! Instead you can just sit there and say it’s okay, let them cry because it’s an outlet for emotions.
Everything happens for a reason or for the best: I was talking to my friend, who had just lost her job due to Covid-19, and she mentioned another friend of ours had called her to enquire. When asked what the topic of discussion was, she said the same old shit! Everything happens for the best, and you will get something better than this and blah blah! It made no difference to her. Someone has just lost their job, got divorced or didn’t get admission in the college of choice. They are really not in mood to hear that. Your employer sucks, your ex is really wretched, there seems to be a Plan B in your store or let’s pray that things work out well will be more likely to make them feel better. However, this is definitely a good line when you are discussing a life situation in retrospect, when things are in a better and happier space.
Don’t worry/ Don’t stress: Is that even possible? Stress is part of our normal day to day life, and it takes new heights when you are in a difficult situation. Be it illness or problems or happy events like marriage, changing jobs, moving countries or buying a home. If it’s a happy situation, you can always say look at the bright side! If it’s a unhappy situation, make it an open ended question like “how are you managing”, “what is your plan ahead?”, “how are you and everyone at home coping with this?”
God gives only what you can endure: This statement makes you a hero when you really don’t want to be one. What is great in being in a disadvantageous position? We all know that we have a situation and we have to face it, and we do it because we have no choice. You may have a different opinion, but personally I absolutely don’t like this line. I would rather hear “you have been really strong till now and you need to keep going” or “hats off to you! Keep it up!” That really has more of a feel-good factor.
It’s karma, you know: Many of us are into spirituality and meditation these days and hence we talk about karma a lot. Your life situations are results of your karma and that is true. It makes for a very profound statement, but we need to be cautious when we say that to someone who needs comforting. Saying that to someone who is struggling, makes them feel worse about themselves. It instantly insinuates that they have done bad things that have in turn attracted their current situation. It needs to be realised by that person, and not pointed out to them at least till they are in a delicate position. You should never make a person feel as though they are to blame for certain situations. But if is a happy situation, go ahead and talk about karma!
These are my top 5 statements that I personally don’t want to hear when you comfort me. I am interested to know if there is more which you wish people wouldn’t say. Please write them in the comments section!