Bad things happen. As we get older, we all become better acquainted with loss and sickness and grief. And we all find ourselves in the position of wanting to support friends and family who are going through terrible experiences. But what to say? How do we reach out in sensitive, appropriate ways? Too often, we default to doing nothing, to shying away out of fear that we will embarrass ourselves or, worse, increase the suffering person’s pain by choosing the wrong words. Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell, both cancer survivors, have our backs. In their wonderful new book, There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love, they offer straightforward, practical and encouraging advice on helping family and friends in hard times. Crowe, who has a Ph.D. in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley, teaches social work and founded Help Each Other Out, a group that offers workshops and online education to promote empathy. McDowell created the popular Empathy Cards, a line of warm, often funny cards that speak honestly to painful circumstances like a friend’s newly diagnosed cancer. Publishers contacted her about doing a book after news about the cards went viral in 2015. She really wanted to make something that started a conversation. And when you’re sick, there are a lot of things that commonly happen to you, things that people say that are kind of ridiculous. You know they’re just trying to help and then you feel bad for being irritated. Like when somebody says, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and you want to hit them. You feel guilty about it, because you feel like, ‘Oh, I know they’re just trying to help.’ It’s a very complicated set of emotions. The feedback I’ve gotten from a lot of people is: ‘Thank you for making these, because I thought I was the only person who felt this way. It validates my feelings and my reality, and it makes me feel like I’m not a total jerk for feeling irritated with the people who try to get me to listen to their cure from the Internet.’ So I felt like there was just a really big opportunity to assist in communication in these kinds of situations where we have a such a hard time communicating.
The author, McDowell, provides this message: “The most important thing that we can do for each other as humans is just to be present for each other’s suffering and to not run away when things get hard. My hope for this book is that it teaches people that we all have that capacity in us, and that it’s easier than we think. I hope that people come away from this book feeling really confident in their ability to do that.” She went on to say that what we actually need is someone to just be a witness to it and be present. Listening is just the best way to do that. You just have to listen and be there. Let the other person talk and let them feel heard without judging them or trying to talk them out of what’s going on or trying to fix it. www.nextavenue.org
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