Illness, tragedy and medical matters can each bring out the worst and the very best in friends. Heck, in family. Many people just don't know what to do or say when someone they know and may even love is going through one of these events. If they ignore it, then maybe they can just act as though it didn't happen, or no one told them about it, the next time they see the person. They dont have to worry that they might do or say the wrong thing. It's all about their comfort level. Right? Wrong.
I learned, not early enough, that ignoring the event or loss is the worst possible thing you can do. A family member was killed in a terrible and tragic circumstance when I was in my early 30's. Her family was embraced by the community, by relatives and friends from across the globe; the outpouring of love was overwhelming. Even so, her mother told me how much it hurt to not hear from friends, including those she considered very close friends. I was someone who had ignored losses and medical situations in the past. I didn't want to say the wrong thing, I didn't know what to say, I would pretend like I didn't know. That made me feel better. I told her that and asked "Well, what if I say the wrong thing?". She told me "Saying nothing is the wrong thing." From that day forward I have made a conscious effort to acknowledge losses and illnesses of close friends, of aquaintances, of clients.
It was after a recent surgery when some of this was brought to mind again. Certainly my circumstances were not tragic and I was not ill, but I did go through a major operation and spent 5 days in the hospital, 6 weeks out of work. I was amazed and humbled at the outpouring of good wishes from friends, family, co-workers and clients. And equally amazed by the silence from others. I received cards from people I speak to once a year or only interact with on Facebook. They actually took the time to buy (or make) a card, write it out and put a $.45 stamp on it. Calls and emails came in, Facebook posts were made, people visited. A friend drove down from the Bay area to spend 4 days taking care of me, knowing I was housebound and not able to do much for myself. It all helped and really did make me feel better. It even made me want to work at recovery for them, to not let them down, as they were cheering for me. I am so appreciative of the time and efforts spent to let me know they had thought of me, that they had taken the time to reach out and let me know.
The silence from others? Hurtful in some cases, curious in others. I wonder if the ones I didn't hear from were in the same place I was so long ago. Were they afraid to say the wrong thing? Not certain what to say? Too much time had gone by?
The next time something happens to someone you know, whether it's a tragic loss or an unexpected illness; a cosmetic surgery or the surgery of someone close to them - say something. Let them know you're aware they are going through a situation that causes pain, be it emotional, physical or both. That little comment, that reaching out to let them know that you know and you care? It makes a difference and it helps them. It's about being kind.
"Saying nothing is the wrong thing."