What to say when you don’t know what to say

Recently I had a chance to speak with a family member that knew about some hard life events that happened to my wife and I. The family member didn’t want to say the wrong thing, and wasn’t sure what to say in general so they just didn’t say anything at all. I’m not here to pass judgement, but this is essentially what I told them. I got this from reading Dave Grossman’s books On Killing and On Combat. I think both of them should be required reading at some point in your life as a means to at least try and understand what we ask our military, police, and firefighters to do, but that’s aside from the point.

Dave Grossman brings up a simple piece of advice when working with anyone that has gone through a traumatic event (and points this out for folks that are going through PTSD) the two things that you can always say to anyone are simply this:

“I’m sorry for your loss.” (or change that to “I’m sorry to hear about what happened”)

And

“Is there anything I can do?”

By putting together those two sentences you can cover about any event that might happen to someone and show your support. Some folks might say nothing, some might ask you for help, some might shrug you off, and maybe even some will get angry (not at you, but at what happened, though that’s not how it will feel). But at the end of the day, you have showed them support. Sometimes that’s the only thing we can do for people, just let them know we are there whether they want our help or otherwise. Another concept that Dave Grossman puts forward is that pain shared is pain divided and that joy shared is joy multiplied. Help them divide their pain, if you can only for a moment.

When my wife and I lost our baby due to a partial molar pregnancy (think of the rare stories- my baby gave me cancer!- luckily it was benign for us) in the beginning of this year it was one of the hardest hits that I’ve take in my life. But, that’s what life does to you sometimes. The day it happened I called each one of my groomsmen to talk about it. I sent an email to my coworkers about what happened and for them to not talk to me about it so I could have a piece of “normalcy” in my life. I remember sitting and crying between sets of deadlifts in the gym just trying to beat the rage out of me (I also remember the gym intern hiding in the office when I would do this since it freaked the hell out of him). Life isn’t fair, and it will beat the hell out of us at different times. The key is that we get through those times. That we keep our heads up and don’t become victims of our circumstances, instead we become survivors. Don’t be afraid to go ask for help, and don’t be afraid to at least offer to help someone when they are hurting. We were very lucky that a number of people reached out to help us as we were working through it (and still working through it).

Thanks for reading and I hope that this helps for someone out there.

-Mike

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