The right thing to say

August 13, 2010

A few months ago, a friend of mine was going through a hard time, and she was getting frustrated with the responses she got from the people around her. “The things people say seem to be intended to make them feel better, not to make me feel better,” she complained. This comment made me think back to my own hard time, after my daughter was born and we were struggling with seizures, medications and diagnoses. Back then, no one could say the right thing to me, either. Looking back, however, I realize that’s because the right thing to say didn’t exist.

It’s kind of an egotistical fantasy that you can say “the right thing” to someone in pain. Wouldn’t it be great if a casual conversation really could lessen despair, grief or depression? It might happen every once in a while, but not on a regular basis. Really, the most you can hope for is not to be offensive. And even this is a challenge, because people who are struggling are easily offended.

I was offended by cards that “congratulated” me on the birth of my daughter, because they didn’t acknowledge how difficult things were. On the other hand, I was offended by people who said “I’m sorry” when I told them that my daughter was disabled, because I didn’t want their pity. I was annoyed at the people who assured me that she would grow out of it, and I was irritated with the people who implied that she wouldn’t. Considering all this, you might think that saying nothing was the safest bet, but the people who avoided the subject of my daughter were the worst offenders of them all. You just couldn’t win with me.

I like to think that, having been through a rough time myself, I’m a little less likely to say the wrong thing. And I have the example of my husband, who always seems to know the right comment to make or question to ask, when to push the subject and when to stay quiet. But I’m pretty sure that all I’ve learned is that, when confronted with someone else’s pain, all you can do is open your mouth and hope for the best.

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2 Responses to “The right thing to say”

  1. nadbugs Says:

    Or listen carefully, pause, feel — the look in the eyes —

    What I needed, when I was in the space where nobody could win with me, was that kind of real succor. So so rare, as you say.

    Like my grandmother used to say and boy she was bitter — I loved her anyway, probably because she had a lot to be bitter about — “Talk is cheap.”


  2. […] a day in the life: Sue Mayer – Special Needs Mom Do You Wonder What Life Could Be…  The Right Thing to Say  Marriage Balance  The Secret  Who Needs Fathers  Finding a Different Way    […]


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