No, there is nothing you can do to make it all better. Nothing. But there are things you can say that can deepen the wound, make things temporarily harder. Likewise, there are things you can say – or, more to the point, do – to help lift the moment.
First, let’s start with the things you should avoid.
Ever tried to “Get on the same page” by sharing your similar story? Think, “I’m so sorry for your loss, my X died a year ago,” or, “Oh, I’ve been there,” or, “My friend’s neighbor’s cousin…”?
Just stop that.
It’s true that so far as rare cancers like mesothelioma are concerned, it can be nice to share your story, helping everyone to feel as if they are not alone in the world and that their fight is not their fight alone.
But when you are in the thick of it, the truth is, NO ONE has experienced what you have. No one has gone through what you have been through. No one knows what you’re feeling — not even your closest friends or family members.
Assuming the position that you understand what someone else is experiencing takes the situation out of the immediate, out of the pressing and out of the personal. It brings the situation to a larger perspective that is frankly not necessary or needed for those in the thick of it. Because the truth is, no matter how many people you know who’ve experienced a trauma similar to yours, pain is personal and no one has a right to say they understand — because they can’t understand. Not to mention the fact that everyone’s struggles deserve to be grieved over in their own way, not as a compilation of other people’s injustices, too.
If the urge comes your way to speak up and say how you’ve been through something similar — shut it up. Wait.
And by all means avoid these phrases:
“You’ll get over it.”
“This will only make you stronger.”
“It will pass.”
Fact Is: you will never get over it. Understanding that is crucial to how we deal with grief. Because grief is too real of a human experience to be seen in any other light.
But wait right there, before you speak too quickly: We are not recommending that you go around reminding people of the dire state their in — no, that’s not needed. But you can tell the truth, in other ways. You can tell them the things that are harder to hold onto, harder to remember.
Tell them they are loved and follow up by showing them your love by helping them in day-to-day ways. Help by getting them the things they might need and don’t have the time – or headspace – to even consider.
What you can do is say, “I’m here.” And show it.
Instead of saying I’ve been there, how about saying I’ll be there.
That’s what counts.