We’ve all been there. Someone close to us (or perhaps not as close to us) has had a horrible, life-altering tragedy. Our first instinct is to rush in with outstretched arms, perhaps with wise, resonating words that would completely change their outlook. It is a worthy goal, but such words might be more useful cross-stitched on a pillow than offered to a person who is probably drowning in well-meaning platitudes.
Truthfully, we just don’t know what to say most of the time. In their book, There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love, authors Emily McDowell and Kelsey Crowe state, “. . . there’s a reason you don’t know what to say. In some situations, there are absolutely no words that will make things better . . . you aren’t going to fix anyone’s pain with your words. But the good news is that no human being can.”
That’s comforting, right? And a little . . . discouraging. How do we help? There Is No Good Card for This gives all kinds of practical yet meaningful suggestions that even the most tongue-tied among us can handle. Over the next few weeks, we will be conducting a No Good Card for This virtual workshop to give us insight into the grief of our loved ones and tools to help lighten their burdens.
One point the book makes early on is that, as awkward as we may feel—and as scared as we are about possibly saying the wrong thing—saying nothing is much worse! In order to help others, we must first help ourselves—and part of helping ourselves is discovering why we may be hesitant about reaching out to someone in a difficult situation. The authors suggest what they call “Empathy Roadblocks” which keep us from reaching out:
• Doing the wrong thing
• Saying the wrong thing
• Not having time (what if I try to rescue them and sink myself in the process?)
Again, doing and saying something are always going to better than doing and saying nothing. We may hold back from offering support because we think that support must be conveyed in a grand gesture. One thing that No Good Card makes clear is that words and actions don’t need to be big, as long as they are heartfelt.
More on that next time!
Crowe, K. & McDowell, E., (2011). There is no good card for this: What to say and do when life is scary, awful, and unfair to people you love. New York, NY: HarperOne.
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