On Compassion: Things We All Need to Get Over Already.

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?”

WRONG!

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. 

That’s it.

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.

* * *

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.

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Comments (13)

  • Tera 3 years ago Reply

    I honestly teared up reading this. Someone I was extremely close to in high school recently passed away. I think we consider how much time has passed entirely too much. We’ve all moved on in our separate lives and think that others will find a sufficient way to handle the grief. We believe it doesn’t need to involve people as far removed as we are. What a difference the little gestures can make. Thank you for such an eloquent and timely post.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Tera! I’m so sorry to hear that!. You bring up a good point– just because a lot of time has passed doesn’t mean your feelings are legitimate. They are, and in fact, I think the distance often makes it even harder.

    It’s also good to keep in mind that grief doesn’t end after a funeral or memorial service or once someone has received "a clean bill of health." It’s really never too late to say or do something.

  • Alexis McCrohan 3 years ago Reply

    Thank you for this. My fiance recently passed away and it means so much when people show up. In the first few weeks people tend to rally and give support; this is wonderful and provides so much comfort. But time goes on and, in the months that follow, people are moving forward with their own lives and have forgotten how my life has stopped. But there are some people that do remember. They are the ones that call, bring over dinner, help with the laundry, hang out and watch a movie, etc. Honestly, I don’t know how I would survive this loss without them.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    That must be so, so difficult. I’m so sorry to hear that. I think it’s a great reminder that grief doesn’t end after the funeral, or a week later… or a month… or even years! Hang in there! It sounds like you have a great support system helping you along. xo

  • Alyssa 3 years ago Reply

    I first heard the "it’s really bizarre who shows up and who doesn’t during hard times" talk from a friend’s mom who went through a cancer scare. I was relatively young when she was discussing it with us, and I remember instantly recognizing that this was a significant piece of advice. "I should remember this," I thought.

    I go back to this advice every time I wonder "is this weird? am I weird? should I just ignore it? am I being a looky-loo?" It has never failed me.

    Also, my BFF is the GOLD STANDARD of card-sending. I love it, everyone loves it. So I try and emulate her regarding cards. Cards are always a good idea! And it’s probably easier to snag someone’s address than one thinks!

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    Great advice, and bravo to you for learning at such a wee age. My mom is a big card person, but I so did not get that gene. I really should try harder– they are really nice to give and get.

  • Lindsay Wood 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks, Molly. Great post.

  • Lee Davenport 3 years ago Reply

    My high school best friend and I have not been as close as I’d like over the years but when my Dad died, she came back to our home town for the funeral and it meant the world to me. We have said "Tu seras toujours mon ami" (you will always be my friend- from Le Petit Prince) since high school after that, I really knew it was true.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    That’s the thing with childhood friends– you always have a bond, no matter what! Not sure why that’s true, but it just is. Probably because you truly understand where each other comes from, and how you got to be the person you are today.

  • Heather Liedl 3 years ago Reply

    I’m extremely happy that you posted this, Molly. In one of my previous volunteer roles, I was a trained to come along side people in crisis. The two biggest things I took away from my training is to 1) show up, and 2) keep it simple. Because it can be so hard and awkward to know what to say, so many of us don’t do anything at all. Sometimes a hug and silence is the best thing to do.

    On the flip side, sometimes we say and do things that make the situation worse for the hurting person. That’s why I HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone: Don’t Sing Songs to A Heavy Heart (How to Relate to Those Who Are Suffering) by Dr. Kenneth Haugk. It’s 150 pages and super easy to read. Dr. Haugk is a clinical psychologist and pastor who lost his wife to cancer.

    Thanks again for this important post.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks for that book recommendation & for sharing your personal story, too!

  • Lizzie 3 years ago Reply

    After my dad died a couple years ago, many people kept what they probably thought was a polite distance, but a couple of friends stood out for their compassion. One who was living abroad got her parents to send me a box of cookies on her behalf, which might seem simple but was exactly what I needed. (If you’re eating your feelings, they might as well taste like cookies.) Another lived across the country from me but offered to fly out for a visit, even though she hates flying and avoids it whenever possible. I didn’t take her up on it but was so, so touched by the offer. It can be hard to know how to help someone who’s suffering, but Heather’s comment about showing up and keeping it simple seems like the perfect balance to me.

  • Bruce 2 years ago Reply

    Great post Molly, I believe that your point is, Trust Your Instincts! Keep up the good work!

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