Saying the right thing is easier than you think

by Lesley on April 11, 2013 · 8 comments

in lessons learned


If you’ve ever gone through an illness, death, miscarriage, or major financial crisis then you’ve probably experienced someone saying the wrong thing. When Jonathan got diagnosed with cancer we received many kind e-mails, cards and phone calls. But we also experienced some odd and hurtful reactions to his diagnosis including strongly opinionated medical advice from people who have no background in medicine. We also heard too many cliches for our own good.  (Everything happens for a reasonGod doesn’t give you more than you can handleGod is definitely going to teach you something.)

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed piece that I believe should be required reading for anyone over 15 years old. How not to say the wrong thing is short, easy-to-understand, and applicable for so many situations. Does your sister have breast cancer? Read this article. Did your neighbor just lose their dog? Read this article. Is your uncle in a huge law suit that might land him in prison? Say a little prayer, and read this article.

Did you read it? I’m waiting. :)

Here’s the summary: when seeing or experiencing a crisis, know your place in the ring. Then, comfort in; dump out.

Comforting someone means saying these types of things:

“I’m so sorry.”

“I’m here to listen.”

“Can I bring you a meal?” (First ask to do a specific and helpful task such as a meal, house cleaning, babysitting, errand, etc. If they say no, follow up by saying, “Is there anything else more helpful I could do instead?”)

“I’m not sure what to say, or how to help, but I just want you to know I’m here for you.”

“If I were in your shoes, I think I’d be feeling ______. Is this how you’re feeling right now?”

And, if you truly believe the person in crisis is in need of advice, say,  “I’m happy to listen, but after helping my husband through his job loss I may have some ways to help. Please let me know if you need specific advice.”

While I think all of us will still struggle to know exactly what to say in moments of crisis, by understanding the “comfort in, dump out” theory, we have a starting point.

Additionally, I think much of this advice is very applicable for first-time mothers. I was really fortunate to have incredible family support when Anna was born but I know not all moms are so lucky. My mom helped in all the right ways, and knew when and how to let me figure things out on my own. But if someone in your life (best friend, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, neighbor) is about to deliver a baby, please remember this “comfort in, dump out” theory. New mamas are at the center of the ring, and everyone else is NOT. Pour love and encouragement on the new mamas in your life, and let them be the ones to decide who visits, how long they stay, and what breastfeeding techniques to try. Basically, “comfort in, opinions out!”

Have you ever said the wrong thing to someone in a time of crisis? Or been the recipient of hurtful advice? From that do you have other ideas for what TO say or NOT TO say in hard times? 


10 Things You Should Never Say to a Miscarriage Survivor

What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

photo credit: rennes.i via photopin cc

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