Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Don’t Put Your Foot In Your Mouth

One of the dumbest things anyone has ever said to me is: “...at least you had some time together. If he’d had a fatal heart attack and died suddenly, you wouldn’t have had that opportunity.

This was said to me at the funeral home the day before my father was buried. My dad was diagnosed with cancer December 2006, right before Christmas. Three weeks later, he ended up in the hospital with complications. During that period, which lasted for almost 21 days, he suffered through the inability to eat or drink or use the bathroom, painful tests, probing physicians and three heart failures. The third one killed him.

Watching him suffer and deteriorate daily was bad enough (he’d been a physically strong man all his life) but when he lost his will to live, it was unbearable. He’d always been an easygoing, witty (I got my humour gene from him) and upbeat person. And the disease took all that away from him. It literally broke him. And the people who loved him.


So no, that time with my father wasn’t a bonus. Or welcome. There were days when we wished his suffering would end. And there were moments that I believed that a fatal heart attack from the get-go would have been better for him and for us. But that’s not true. I know that if that had happened, I would have wished for the extended stay. Because what it comes down to is that there is no ‘good way’ to lose a loved one. Grief is grief.

Hey, I get it; people don’t know what to say when someone dies. It’s a very uncomfortable situation to be in. But after losing two very close and beloved family members within four years (my father and brother), I’ve learned one thing: when you don’t know what to say, say very little, so you don’t put your foot in your mouth. And you don’t upset or frustrate the bereaved.


Keep it short and keep it simple. Use short phrases like:

“I’m sorry for your loss”
“My condolences to you and your family.”
“I’m sorry about (insert name/relation). Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
"I was deeply saddened to hear of (name of the deceased)'s passing. My heartfelt condolences."

Touch an arm, hug if you’re close. Then stop talking. Just stop. And move away.

If you can’t help yourself because you’re a chatterer, don’t talk about illnesses or suffering or death. Instead, share some happy memories of the deceased to show how much s/he was admired, respected and loved. Those types of stories are always appreciated and they help ease the grief.

But never, ever say that the people left behind are lucky because the way their loved one died is better. It's never better. Death is forever.

What is one of the dumbest things anyone has ever said to you?

43 comments:

  1. Great advice, Martha! I don't remember any of the dumb things people have said to me over the years but I remember (and cringe) at some of the stupid things I've said.

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    1. We all have our fair share, Debra! Live and learn. Hopefully...lol...

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  2. I try to forget them as soon as possible.

    I'm so sorry for your losses.

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  3. "I'm going to vote for Donald Trump"


    but honestly when it comes to stuff non political I'm not too sure. I'm sure I've said some things that could be considered dumb to have said but were meant well

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  4. This is really great advice. I never know what to say to someone who's suffered a loss. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

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    1. I'm glad some of these work for you, Linda! Like anyone else, I've learned the hard way...LOL...

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  5. When my father was ill with pulmonary fibrosis, I was talking to the wife of a coworker that he was out of the hospital and actually doing better. She then proceeded to tell me that that's what usually happens right before somebody dies, they seem to do better, then they die. In fact, my father did actually die fairly soon after that, but I didn't need her morbid prediction. -Jenn

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    1. You certainly did not need that morbid prediction! I often wonder why people feel the need to share this type of information. What gain is there aside from hurting the loved ones???

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  6. The book of Proverbs says something similar to your advice, "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding" and "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise."

    Sometimes it's just best to be there and to be quiet.

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    1. That is the best way to handle it when you are concerned about what to say. Being present is often enough comfort!

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  7. thanks for the advice Martha, we can all use this.

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  8. Many years ago my dad died suddenly of a heart attack and my mom died suddenly of a stroke.
    My wife's father lingered on for many weeks. Death is death. It's sad.

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    1. You got it, John. No matter how it happens, death is sad.

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  9. I think when I was young I was guilty of saying the wrong things; I've learned to temper what I have said over the years. I think, like you mentioned, we just want the person to know we care and as we do so, sometimes incredibly stupid things come out of our mouths. The dumbest thing I can remember now someone saying to us was about our kids since both are adopted. One person asked one time "do you know anything about their real parents." I wanted to slap them and I thought "I'm not real?" I educated on biological/birth versus real that perhaps they might want to rethink how they ask a question like that again.

    I am sorry about your dad; no matter how many years pass, it is always a sad thing to not have our parents part of our lives.

    betty

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    1. That is awful about your kids, Betty! Those types of comments are very insensitive and very inappropriate!

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  10. I've heard people do that - stumble over what to say and just keep making it worse. I think I'm the opposite. When I don't know what to say, I clam up. Sometimes it's just as awkward. I've had people say some pretty dumb things to me, but the one I've heard over and over throughout the years is, "you're so skinny, I hate you." Gee thanks... I'm not too fond you now either.

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    1. HAHAHA! That is funny.
      But I imagine it gets tiring after awhile.

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  11. My sister-in-law said, "Well at least you got pregnant" after my 4th miscarriage. She had been unable to get pregnant herself but that was far from comfort as I had passed my 1st trimester and hoped that this pregnancy was going to take.

    Luckily, I recognize she spoke from her own pain and could forgive and move forward,

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    1. That is a good way to look at it, Linda. She was speaking from pain, for sure!

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  12. Right after my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer one of her friends said, "I am not going to lie to you. Ovarian cancer is very insidious." She went on to tell me how bad it was going to get and that she would likely die.

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    1. Oh, Birdie, that is awful! Why do people feel the need to share things like this?!

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  13. Two days after my Dad died my family was sitting around the dinner table with my Mom who just lost her husband. My Aunt said to my Dad's brother, "well I need to die first because I don't know how to go through the paperwork.". The rest of the family started joking around about who should die first. REALLY?????? My Dad just died and his wife of 50 years is sitting here and you think it's appropriate to say stupid sh*t like that?????

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    1. That is terrible!! I wish people would be a little more thoughtful and sensitive. And if they can't, they shouldn't say anything.

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  14. There are different stages of grief. At the time of death and shortly after you give good advice. There's also a time to listen when people want to talk about their loss.then there's a time for you to talk and remember good times. all of these take place as time moves on. Awkward thinks i've said? I've got lots of them.

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    1. You and me both! I don't think anyone is immune from saying awkward things. Sometimes we stumble. But we should try out best to be sensitive, especially where grief is involved.

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  15. Very wise words, Martha! I'm never sure what to say, but I'm a big believer in hugs. I struggle with whether to say "died" or "passed," at any time, but I certainly avoid either of them anywhere around funerals or hospitals.

    My mother died over a period of about ten days, after a 7.5 year struggle on dialysis. She had a stroke, miraculously recovered (the doctors called it a resurrection), was released from the hospital, chose to end dialysis, and died six days later at home. It was the most difficult, painful, amazing, even wonderful six days of my life. I'm glad I experienced them, but I would have been grateful not to see her suffering and wished a number of times that the stroke had killed her.

    That said, on Victoria Day, there was a palliative care nurse shortage, so the med system sent a housekeeper and I was trained the day before to give my mother injections of morphine in case she needed them. There was a lot of morphine. I could have "helped" her along to die more quickly, but there was no way I could even bear to think of doing such a thing. I knew she wanted every conscious moment with us she could have. I'm not sure what I would have done if my mother had asked me to end her life then and there. If I've learned anything, it is that you can't predict what you will do in a difficult situation until you are in it.

    My father died suddenly and unexpectedly. The death of both of my parents was wrenching. Death is final, and there is no good or better way to those experiencing the loss of someone they loved. I know that grief has different stages, but everyone experiences the event uniquely. I've learned to be compassionate about the things people do, especially during a time of great emotional distress. With both those who are grieving, and those who are struggling to comfort.

    As for dumb things I've said? I can't even begin to count them or pick the dumbest! I'm highly emotional and sometimes that short-circuits reason! LOL

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    1. Oh my gosh...what a story with that morphine! Thank goodness your mom didn't make a request like that because that is a terrible position to be in.

      There certainly isn't any good way to experience the loss of a loved one! The grief is equal at the end. I agree with you, Louise; you can't predict how you'll react in a difficult situation until you're in it!

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  16. I agree that death scenarios can be very tricky indeed because each of us brings different experiences/emotions to the 'table'.
    I probably have had dumb things said to me....I am sure but can't remember one right now.
    I remember saying something pretty dumb to a female member of my fitness studio back in the 80's. I just wasn't thinking I guess......she had been a loyal daily member and worked very hard at her workouts. One day I noticed that she was getting bigger and bigger/gaining weight.
    Being the concerned person I am, I hoped she knew what she was doing, and was being careful.....since I thought she was pregnant.
    So I approached her and asked when she was due. She said, 'Due for what?" !!!!!!
    I was mortified that I didn't approach this more sensitively. She was upset and cried.
    She ought to have soaked me!!
    I learned from that day onwards to not jump to conclusions.

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    1. That would be...."she ought to have socked me!!"

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    2. HAHAHA! I couldn't help but laugh out loud at this, Jim. I know you meant well and I hope in time she was able to overcome how upsetting it was!

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  17. Such great advice. Especially in the time of loss, often saying "less" is far more sensitive.
    (But on that note: I am so sorry for your loss.)

    I have gone through a number of losses and often good meaning people have said less than sensitive things but usually I have been able to over look their comments because I figured they meant no malice EXCEPT for one.

    My brother-in-law committed suicide many years ago when my husband was in his mid-twenties. After the funeral an ex girlfriend of my husband's called us and wanted to know WHY he killed himself. Seriously, she called our house and asked that!! Crazy bitch.

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    1. Wow, that is awful! Suicide is a very different kind of grief and also extremely difficult to deal with (I've had to deal with that) and people can be particularly insensitive about that both from a moral point of view as well as a busy body type of approach.

      That being said, I'm sorry about your brother-in-law!

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  18. It's true, unless you've been in the situation, you have no idea so have no idea what to say. Some people think they HAVE to say something then end up saying the wrong thing. Others think if they say nothing at all they'll be judged for not doing so. Unfortunately, death is like disease, we have no idea what to say to any of it, so end up making idiots of ourselves. But then again, we are only human.

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    1. You got it; we are only human. Most stupid statements are forgivable because the person meant well. You do get the really stupid and insensitive statement that is beyond acceptable, but it's truly rare.

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  19. The dumbest recently?
    Heck, just a couple days ago during a teaching course. A teacher was creating horrible untruths during my group discussion and the rest of the teachers just nodded in assent!!! It was A SCIENCE TEACHERS convention goddamnit!

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    1. Did they not know better? Or did they know better and not challenge what was being said?

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