Saturday, February 09, 2008

a friend in need

I somehow ended up with a free subscription to Parenting magazine, which seems to be so geared towards new mothers (preferably those under 35) that I often find it annoyingly irrelevant. At this point in my life, for instance, articles about how to "keep the spark alive with the new Daddy" make me more nauseated than a first-trimester subway ride without Sea-Bands.

But needing something to read while I was eating lunch today, I fished the March issue out of the recyling bag and found a fabulous article: "How to Help a Friend in Need," by Margaret Renkel. It gives advice for how to be truly helpful when someone is in a state of loss or other crisis.

The online version doesn't include the rather brilliant sidebar, "What Not to Say to a Mom in Crisis." So I'm taking the liberty of typing it up here.

Sometimes the most well-meaning friends say hurtful things. Try to avoid:
"Everything's going to be just fine." This minimizes what may be a very serious problem and says that her fears aren't legitimate.
“I know just how you feel.” You probably don’t. Even if you were once in similar circumstances you didn’t necessarily feel the same way your friend feels now. A gentler opening: “If you ever feel like talking, please give me a call. I suffered a miscarriage once, and it helped to talk with women who’d been through the experience.”
“It’s all part of God’s plan.” Many religious traditions don’t accept misfortune as divinely ordained. It’s best to avoid imposing your own religious frame of reference on someone else.
“It could be worse.” It isn’t helpful to point out that some kinds of cancer are worse than others.
“At least you still have [fill in the blank].” People who’ve lost someone or something important—a parent, a marriage—are usually well aware of the blessings that remain, but still need time to mourn that loss.

One caveat: If you’re reading this list and consumed with guilt, remembering the times you’ve made exactly these statements, don’t kick yourself. Even when people are in crisis mode, they can tell when a remark is innocent and not intended to be hurtful. They’ll try not to take it to heart—and you should do the same.

Just reading this article made me feel a little better somehow. (My life, alas, is not all about dazzling writers' conferences.) And listening to Ron Sexsmith helps, too.

1 comment:

jmiller said...

Great advice, that is definitely worth sharing.