How To ‘Say The Right Thing’ After A Tragedy

You know who I am. I’m your

sister-in-law / cousin / friend / neighbour / coworker / bridesmaid / carpool member / other


lost her husband / just had a baby with Down syndrome / found out her mom has cancer / buried her third-born twelve years ago / was in a serious car accident / lost her job / was just diagnosed with thrombocytopaenia / other

I love you. I know you want to help. And I get that you have no idea how. So please, let me tell you what I need.sadness

Don’t avoid my tragedy. Let me talk about it, ask me questions, listen to my story. I need to tell it, over and over again. I need to settle the details. I need to sort through what happened and understand where I’m at. I can’t possibly begin to move forward until I know what just happened to me. Don’t pity me. I need you to think I’m strong and capable so I will believe that, too. No matter how much I cry.

  • But don’t correct or assist me. If you know of a sure-fired solution to a part of my problem, call me later, after you’ve had ‘time to think on it.’ Don’t tell me now; I’ll only hear judgement, criticism, and disappointment. You can’t possibly understand what every minute is like for me right now – please don’t make me think you could handle this better than I’m barely managing to do myself.

Don’t ask how I am. Not unless it’s the right time and place to get into the gory details. Tell me you’re glad to see me. Tell me I’m looking strong/happy/deep in thought. But stay away from my appearance; I’m likely not at my best.

  • Feel free to invite me out for a spa day. I’d love a new hairdo, manicure, or, ooh, yes, a massage. God knows I haven’t done anything for myself in ages. But don’t go overboard and try to make me over. I can’t make any decisions right now. And the last thing I need is a new hair colour, a colon-cleanse, or my first Brazilian waxing.

Don’t tell me we should get together. Invite me out. Set a specific time and place. A movie, a dinner, a girls’ night out. If I can go, I will; if I can’t I won’t.

  • Make the arrangements. But even if you call and ask me out every week for a year, and I say no every time, know that I know you’re there and that you care – for real. Please don’t leave it open ended; intentions mean nothing. Nobody ever follows up.

Don’t tell me to ask you for help. I won’t. Even if I know what I need, I’m not going to bother you. Every time we talk, you’re so busy with work and the kids and the renovation and the volunteering. There’s no room for me.

  • Call me and tell me you have Saturday open. You’d like to come over and be mine for the day. You’ll be here at 9 and stay til 5. Whatever I need: help cleaning a closet, painting a room, cooking and stocking the freezer, sitting and watching two seasons of Game of Thrones. I’m crying just writing that down.

Don’t forget about me. Call me. I’m not as busy as you think I am. If I can’t talk, I won’t answer the phone.

  • But leave me a message to let me know you’re thinking about me. Don’t worry if I don’t answer – and please don’t pressure me to. But keep calling. I need to know you’re there when I finally get a chance to come up for a breath of fresh air. Write me a card. I likely won’t respond, but know that your card will sit on my desk for weeks, even months, reminding me that I have friends who still care about me, and that my world hasn’t completely fallen apart.

Know that I’m dealing with this the best way I know how. Let me do it my way, but help me to be strong for myself and my family. Help me to find hope again. And know that I love and need you. I can’t get through this without you.

And one day when I am a better version of myself for having survived this mess, know that I will be there for you.

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