What can I say? I’m a big fan of Mari Andrew‘s work. Of course you know that because I keep posting it. I appreciate the vulnerability she shares and I like that she says makes it okay for people to talk about a lot of things that we don’t really talk about. This illustration that she posted this morning really spoke to me.
A few months ago when we explored the heavenly space that is Village Books and Paper Dreams in Fairhaven, Washington, I came across a card that said something along the lines of, “I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet. I didn’t know what to say.” It broke my heart. And I had to buy it. (What can I say? I love sad things.) The idea that there are enough people who don’t know what to say that someone could make a card for the occasion? Man, that cuts the isolation right down in an instant. But the recognition and the familiarity that I have with not saying something in times of tragedy, that’s what really hit me hard. I can cope with my inability to know the right thing to say, but the idea of all the souls out there aching and wishing they could say something to help? That killed me.
I tend to opt out of saying anything. It isn’t always because I don’t know what to say (although sometimes it is) but it’s often because I do know that other people are probably hanging around saying really stupid things. I prefer quiet support over loud superfluous words. I often think of this as something to work on because that’s MY style of being supported. I am comforted by attention that is quiet and calm so that is what I try to offer. I don’t want people in my face, but I want to know enough that people are around if I reach out to them. Not everyone is like that and that’s where I feel like I could improve. But it’s hard to know how when that is so opposite of your nature.
In April 2017, I posted this photo on Instagram after we’d received a card from my aunt in response to the cancellation of our wedding plans. She told us that she loved us and that she was happy with whatever we decided. As the only person who actually addressed the decision that we had made, I felt like this was a supremely significant gesture. I captioned the photo:
At every twist and turn in life, there’s always something nice that can be said. Surround yourself with at least one person who knows how to put their feelings into words and isn’t afraid to reach out and share them.
I still feel moved by that note.
I was reminded of it when I listened to episode 140 of the Happier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin and her sister Liz Craft last fall. The episode was a deep dive into “the right and wrong things to say.” Here are some of their takeaways from their listener driven research:
- Saying a simple “I’m so sorry that you going through this…” is very effective.
- There’s no one right thing to say — people are different, situations are different. Remind yourself of your purpose as you approach someone.
- Kindness and warmth are the most important things.
- It’s not comforting to predict outcomes that simply can’t be predicted. “Keep trying, I’m sure you’ll get pregnant.” “You’ll beat this.”
- It’s not helpful to say things that suggest that people are responsible for what happens to them. “Maybe this happened because you’re so stressed.”
- People love to share memories of someone who has died.
- When offering to help, be as specific as possible.
- For Elizabeth and me, the lesson was: Say something; acknowledge what’s someone is going through. Some gesture, some expression, is so welcome. The wrong thing to do is to ignore someone’s pain because you’re afraid to say the wrong thing.
That last one, you know? Hmmm.
Are you someone who always knows the right thing to say? Do you prefer to say a lot or a little when someone you know is suffering? What’s the best way for you to feel comforted in times of stress?