“Tell me more…”
“How does that make you feel?”
“What are your plans?”
“How is the family dealing with this?”
“What is the most helpful thing I can do for you right now?”
These are some of the most supportive things people said to me as I went through my life’s challenges.
After going through a plane crash, breast cancer, my son’s cancer, and having my mom with dementia live with me her final months of her life, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn what words work and what words don’t.
What do all these statements have in common?
- They are open-ended. The person asking me the question has left everything wide open in regards to how I can answer.
- These questions are not optimistic or pessimistic in their form. They are just simple questions about me personally and how I’m dealing with my challenge.
- They allow me, the challenged friend, to release my own feelings without needing to protect the listener.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in consoling someone going through a challenge is trying to make whatever they say sound optimistic, put a positive spin on the situation. They want to try to take away some of the pain, dull the hurt.
But, take it from me, no one can take away my pain. No one can ever know what it’s like to be in my challenged position at that moment, so my hurt can’t really be softened by anything you say to me.
What you can do is be there standing next to me as I face the hardship. Taking the time to ask open-ended, non-emotionally-charged questions allows me, the suffering friend, to take you up on your questions, offers, or openess on my terms.
Especially as a woman, I have “taking care of others” as an operative that drives much of my life. When I need caring, it is hard to even know where to start. Having to keep a smile on my face to make you feel better while facing scary things makes my situation even more difficult.
Being there next to me while I ponder the situation of that moment allows me to process things and find my own ah-ha moments to help myself at whatever place I am. And, looking back, the questions above, never made me lie or downplay the truth in order to make my supportive friend feel better.