When someone you know has experienced something earth shattering, something that has completely changed their life so that they will never be the person they were before, it is often hard for friends and family to know what to say to support them.
We all have difficult moments in our lives but many people will never have to go through something as devastating as being told your child has a permanent disability, a life threatening illness or actually losing a child. These things change you. They change your perspective on yourself, the world and everything in it. They force you to walk a path you never imagined could have existed, least of all for you and your family.
Every single person I know that has experienced something like this has also talked about how they lost friends or relationships in the process. People in their lives either weren't supportive, couldn't deal with the situation themselves or were outright rude and mean.
For some reason these thoughts have stayed with me recently. I have read many other articles and blog posts about how people deal with the comments they hear. How the cliches don't help and the platitudes don't either. How we all need to try to actually be there for one another instead of just offering "comfort" in the form of a hollow comment.
Tonight I read a post that a friend shared on Facebook that addresses this issue perfectly for me. You should read it too, here's the link:
Alright & Okay
I am not trying to chastise anyone for things they may have said to people in the past. We are ALL guilty of saying these things. When we haven't yet experienced one of these earth shattering events, the cliches sound good. They sound helpful and most of us actually say them with good intentions. But so often they don't help. They minimize the enormity of the pain that we are feeling and make it seem like you think if you say this then all of that will go away and you won't have to feel uncomfortable anymore.
But it's not about you.
It's not about how uncomfortable you feel.
It's about being supportive and doing what you can to let your friend/neighbor/family member know that you are there for them.
The cliches and platitudes won't make the pain go away. No matter how nice they sound. Nothing will. That's right, nothing.
Having a child that has been diagnosed with (multiple) disabilities is hard. When he was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, I had a new baby that I was completely in love with and had just been told that there was something "wrong" with him that could never be made "right".
No amount of "It will be alright", "God only gives us what we can handle", "God only gives special children to special people" or "You'll be fine, you are so strong" was going to make that better.
When people said those things to me, I heard:
"I couldn't deal with that, so you must be different from me somehow. Maybe if I say these things then she will feel better and I won't have to hear about it anymore"
Even though I KNOW that is not what people meant, it's what it felt like.
(I have a whole other post about why I can't stand the Special Children and Special People comment, if you'd like to read that one.)
The whole point of me writing all of this is not to make anyone feel bad about what they may have said in the past. It's just to get people to try to think a little more before they speak. Offer compassion and real support, not just empty words.
The best thing you can say (in my opinion) to someone that is going through something you really don't understand is "I'm here for you". And mean it. Don't wait for them to ask for your help, just offer or do what you can. Send a text, make a phone call, send a note, bring dinner or just listen. Don't try to wave the pain away, just be the shoulder to cry on.
Say something from the heart, not just something that sounds good.
It's not about looking back and feeling guilty for everything you have done wrong, it's about going forward and being kind.