Let’s all acknowledge that often times, we do know exactly what’s going on in other people’s lives.
I know that one friend from high school got divorced and has a new boyfriend. I know that girl, who I attended to 1st – 12th grade with, recently lost her mom to cancer. I know so-and-so had a baby; I know yada-yada just got married.
We all hear things, see things, know things.
So why is it so hard to acknowledge this stuff in a real, meaningful way? I’m definitely of the mindset that a Facebook “Like” or “Congrats!” or “HBD!” is completely sufficient for giving kudos to another human being when good stuff happens (though a card or email or text is even better).
But when the shit hits the fan, we should all try a little harder.
I recently had lunch with Lena, a friend who lost her husband to cancer. She mentioned that in times of tragedy, it’s really interesting who shows up and who doesn’t. Who calls, who sends a note, who comes to your house and does your laundry. She said hearing from her husband’s former classmates, long-lost friends, relatives and coworkers meant so much to their family.
I nodded in agreement, secretly thinking of all the times I hadn’t “shown up.”
Of course, with my truly close people, I am there. These are the people where there’s absolutely no question that they would want to hear from me. But what about when a colleague loses a parent, or distant relative finds out they have cancer, or a person who you totally knew 10 or 20 years ago, but mostly lost touch with aside from liking their random Facebook update, is dealing with a terribly sick child?
If “maybe I should send a card” or “maybe I should go to the funeral” even crosses your mind, you probably should.
A few years ago, I skipped a childhood friend’s mom’s funeral. It’s literally years later and I still feel crappy about it. There is NO WAY my non-appearance was noted. However, if I had shown up, my friend would’ve noticed. It would have made her feel good, even just for a fleeting moment– not because it was me, but because it means your mom mattered to me. And her mom did matter to me! She was so kind and let us swim in their pool and eat all their food and stay up waaay to late watching scary movies we were waaay too young to watch.
But I didn’t go because I was like, “would it be weird if I went? That would be weird, right? No one would notice if I didn’t go, but it would be weird if I went. Right?”
And the reason I know this for sure is because I am still thinking about how I didn’t go to my friend’s mom’s funeral. It still feels bad. I had people who’d only met my grandmother ONE TIME show up at her funeral. That mattered to me. And my friend Lena said total randos who sent a note while her husband was in hospice mattered. So often, we don’t say or do anything because it’s uncomfortable. Death and tragedy make us all act weird.
But just get over it already. We’re better than that.
In the past year, I’ve tried to be better about this, even when I thought hrm… that might be awkward.
The first was when my great-aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I made it a point to visit her & her husband in the following week. I called first to make sure they were accepting visitors. I hung out for less than 45 minutes (remember, sick people don’t have a whole lot of energy). We had the best conversation and it was actually kind of fun.
Last spring, I heard a high school friend was battling a rare form of cancer. We hadn’t spoken in years, but I sent her a card and some granola.
Just a month ago, my honorary uncle entered hospice. This is a guy I’ve known and loved my entire life. He lives on the other side of the country, and I didn’t feel like a card would cut it. But calling seemed so hard. What do you say? How are you? He’s in hospice, so um, probably not that good. It took me five days to muster the courage to call. But I eventually did, and was kind of relieved when I got his voicemail. I kept it simple.
Hi Bob, it’s Molly. Wanted to call and say I love you and I’m thinking about you.
I don’t know how my messages, visits, phone calls and cards went over. That’s not the point. And I am not sharing this to be like look at me, I’m awesome! It’s about getting out of your head (should I or shouldn’t I?) and showing compassion for the people who’ve made your life better. A Like on Facebook is way easier than calling or sending a card, but sending a card is way easier than losing a loved one or dealing with an illness. Really, it’s the least you can do. People won’t think you’re weird for reaching out or showing up, they will be touched.
And remember: one day, your shit will hit the fan. Would you rather people show up or not? Right.
So send a thinking about you card. Share a story via email. Call. Visit. Make a donation on someone’s behalf to an organization they care about. Go to the memorial service. It’s not weird. It’s life. It’s kindness.
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I’m no expert on this topic… If you’re so inclined to share, how did people show up for you when you were grieving or going through a tough time? What helped? What didn’t?
Want to connect with someone going through some stuff, but don’t know what to say? Keep it simple. Here’s an excellent piece called “How to Not be a Dick To Someone Who Just Lost a Family Member,” written by an older-than-her-years high school senior who lost her sister. Brilliance.