(please enjoy the elephant drawing a did ages ago…sorry for being lazy)
You don’t know how to talk to me. You don’t know what to say.
I get it. I really, really get it.
Long ago, when I lived in Eugene, I was having lunch at a restaurant in my neighborhood when a friend I hadn’t seen for a while popped in. We said hello and hugged, and he sat next to me. When I asked him where he’d been, he said, “My father died.”
I gaped. I stumbled around for something to say. I literally said, “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.” My friend seemed unperturbed by my behavior, but all I could think was, I hope he leaves. The situation was so uncomfortable for me that I just wanted out.
That was years ago, and I’ve since learned a little about how to talk to people in crisis and in heavy emotional situations. Last year, I lost both of my grandfathers within two weeks of each other, and my uncle a couple of months later. It was a time fraught with difficult emotions—grief and loss, especially. I found myself having many, many conversations around death, and I was both on the receiving end and the giving end of sympathy from others.
At that time, I was able to empathize, and instead of offering platitudes, I let myself sit in the uncomfortable feelings of anger and sadness, and I even allowed myself to feel all the other weird, complex feelings that didn’t seem rational.
So here we are. I have a brain tumor. I’m getting it taken out on June 23rd. And I’m fighting tooth and nail with the insurance company that doesn’t want to pay for it.
What the hell can you say?
I’ve been reading a book called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. The authors, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, talk a lot about how others can approach the “elephant” in the room, and some of the myths that friends and family have to get past in order to talk to you about tragic events in your life. I’m going to paraphrase ideas from the book and add my own takes.
Obstacles to Conversation:
You think you’re not allowed to talk about your own problems. Well stop it! I know my friendships are largely one-sided right now, but I want to restore the balance between us. I care about you and I want to help you through your troubles, too.
You don’t know what to say or do. Call me up or text me and ask if you can bring over a coffee. Ask if I need a ride to the store. Let me know you’re in the area and ask if it’s a good time for a visit. More specific is better…if you just ask if there is anything I need, it will be tougher for me to answer you.
You think talking about the brain tumor will make things worse. Nope. If I don’t feel like talking about it, I’ll let you know and we can talk about other things. Please don’t be afraid to bring it up.
You’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Okay, you might. But it won’t be the end of the world. Emily McDowell Studio has a line of empathy cards that are fantastic examples of what to say to people going through serious shit. One of my favorites says: “When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my cousin’s friend who died of lemons.” (Yes, someone I know actually went into a diatribe about how many people die in surgery when I said I was having brain surgery).
That’s pretty much it for my advice about how to talk to me. If you want to be extra nice, you can try to convince me I’m not a huge burden right now. I’m trying to convince myself of that, but I could use a little teamwork. And if you see me slipping into self-pity mode, just remind me of how many amazing people have shown their support through rides, phone calls, and GoFundMe pledges. I don’t need pity, and I certainly don’t need it from myself. I’m so freakin’ lucky! ; )
If you’ve actually read this far, thank you! Thank you so much for caring about me enough to read this enormous blog post. Even for the peeps not reading this, I love you all! Thank you for being there for me!