If you read my post yesterday, you know I cited a list of things we should stop saying to struggling friends or acquaintances.
This list was composed by Kate Bowler and can be found in the back of the incredible memoir about her life with Stage IV colon cancer. The book is called Everything Happens for a Reason ... and other lies I've loved.
As promised, here is her suggested list of things to say to those who are hurting.
She calls it - Give this a go, See how it works: A Short List
1. "I'd love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?"
Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift I got that wasn't about cancer and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with You-Tube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your gifts. But most important, bring me presents!
2. "You are a beautiful person."
Unless you are of the opposite gender and used to speaking in a creepy windowless-van kind of voice, comments like these go a long way. Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job without feeling like they are learning a lesson. So tell your friend something about his life that you admire without making it feel like a eulogy.
3. "I am so grateful to hear about how you're doing and just know that I'm on your team."
You mean I don't have to give you an update? You asked someone else for all the gory details? Whew! Great! Now I get to feel like you are both informed and concerned. So don't gild the lily. What you have said is amazing, so don't screw it up by being a Nosy Nellie. Ask a question about any other aspects of my life.
4. "Can I give you a hug?" *
Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm. People who are suffering often - not always - feel isolated and want to be touched. Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs or throwaways. So ask if your friend feels up for a hug and give her some sugar.
5. "Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard."
Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it. People tend to want to hear the summary but they usually don't want to hear it from you. And that it was awful. So simmer down and let them talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness. Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn't is exhausting.
The truth is that no one knows what to say. It's awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People's weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.
A FINAL PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT TO SUFFERING PEOPLE:
Just remember that if cancer or divorce or tragedies of all kinds won't kill you, people's good intentions will. Take the phrase "but they mean well ..." as your cue to run screaming from the room.
Or demand presents.
You deserve a break.
* Note from Alice -
No hugs during Covid, unless you are part of the quarantine pod of the struggling person!
One more note from Alice -
So many people are hurting right now.
People we know are suffering all kinds of tragedies, large and small.
The very last thing we should do with our words is add to their misery.
If you have to, keep this list close by. Refer to it before you get together with a hurting friend.
And if all else fails, try silence, a small gift, a hug and a smile.
Lord knows we could all use some serious kindess these days.