What Not to Say

Diana Beebe, Mermaids Don't Do Windows, MDDW, Diana Beebe's Blog, science fiction, fantasyWhen a person suddenly passes away, our first instinct is to ask why or how it happened. I’d like for the world to rethink that line of questioning. If you listen closely to the person giving the news, he or she will probably tell that—if he or she wants you to know.

“The person passed away because of ________.”

However, if the news is presented like this: “The person passed away.” Then, don’t ask for more, please.

As a fairly new member of the club that no one asks to join (as my dear friend from college described it when she met me at the door), I’ve been blown away by the love and support and friendship that continues to pour my way.

But for all the love and the joy returning to my days, every once in a while I get blind sided by someone who says something like this:

“Let’s get together. You can tell me all the details of what happened.”

Uh. No.

What the heck? Now I’m replaying the events in my head. I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to have that conversation with you or with anyone. If you weren’t there, if I didn’t tell you, if I didn’t put it in a notice, then maybe you shouldn’t ask that of me or of any person whose loved one passed away.

“Well, I was really surprised.”

Yeah, me, too. Thanks.

So, that means you can ask me to tell you “all the details” of how and why my husband passed away? Because you’re my friend and you were surprised. Nope.

Why is this even a question allowed to be asked by civilized people?

Does knowing why or how make your day better? Does it improve you as a person?

Is it worth dredging up someone’s grief to satisfy your curiosity?

I KNOW this person meant well and doesn’t have a malicious molecule anywhere. But those seemingly friendly words flayed me.

Before you ask someone to tell you all the details, think about his or her feelings. You don’t know what that person went through–whether it was sudden, drawn out, traumatic, peaceful, or even horrific. Or all of the above. Or not really any of them.

Please, don’t ask that person to relive the events.

Say this instead: “I don’t know what to say.” I’ll take that over the other any day. It’s honest and not intrusive.

You don’t have to say anything. Just be a friend. Tell me about your day. Ask me about gardening or chickening (Mockingbird’s new word) or writing. Tell me a funny story. Remember something about my husband that you liked. I’m not afraid to talk about him.

Let me continue healing. Let me find a new normal. Let me continue being strong.


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