“If you think an awkward response to a friend’s crisis will make them feel bad, then you should know that if you say nothing, they will likely feel worse. ”
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When someone you know is hurting, you want to let them know that you care. But many people don’t know what words to use—or are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Life can be scary, challenging, awful, and unfair at times; no one has a problem-free life. You are either going through a storm, entering a storm, or heading to the next storm. There is No Good Card for This is a great instructional guide on how to be there for your loved ones during trying times, what to say and do.
It can be tricky knowing the right thing to say or do during trying times for our family, friends, and loved ones but the major take away from reading the book is you have to try to listen to the grieving and at least say something when they lose someone, a simple text message saying “I am sorry” goes a long way and is often appreciated than not saying anything.
In There is No Good Card for This, empathy expert Dr. Kelsey Crowe and greeting card maverick Emily McDowell, blends well-researched, actionable advice with the no-nonsense humor and the signature illustration style of McDowell’s immensely popular Empathy Cards, to help you feel confident in connecting with anyone experiencing grief, loss, illness, or any other difficult situation.
This book is not chicken soup for the soul; it’s whiskey for the wounded.
Here are my favourite take aways from reading There Is No Good Card for This by Dr. Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell.
The first time something unimaginably terrible happens to a friend—and it will happen at some point—you may get a pass for awkward behavior. Yet as time goes on, if you want to be a responsible grown-up, you’ve got to do a little better than that. When someone in your life is hurting, there are real, concrete ways to help.
THE THREE TOUCHSTONES OF SHOWING UP:
1)YOUR KINDNESS IS YOUR CREDENTIAL.
2)LISTENING SPEAKS VOLUMES.
3)SMALL GESTURES MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE.
IF YOU’RE CHOOSING BETWEEN SAYING SOMETHING AND SAYING NOTHING, YOU’RE ALMOST ALWAYS BETTER OFF SAYING SOMETHING.
What makes us shy away? Meet the Empathy Roadblocks:
•FEAR OF DOING THE WRONG THING
Oh God, what if I make it worse?” We feel pressure to cure the situation with the perfect gesture, and if we fail, we fear we’ll ruin a relationship, or just embarrass ourselves.
•FEAR OF SAYING THE WRONG THING
We don’t know if we are supposed to know certain things; we don’t want to make someone feel like the source of gossip; we don’t want to bring up negative feelings if someone wasn’t thinking about that awful thing that happened. If we’re not really close to the person (e.g., a coworker), we might feel like it’s not our “place” to help, and that when we do, we’ll say something that makes them feel worse.
•FEAR OF NOT HAVING TIME/BANDWIDTH
We’re busy, life is crazy, and we don’t want to commit to more than we can handle. We’re not sure how much of a commitment this stuff involves.
“Research shows that talking about our feelings is often easier with friends than with family members. So if you are frustrated that your sibling or parent is not able to listen and talk with you about how you’re feeling, you are not alone. It’s completely normal for family members to fall down on the job in the feelings realm. It’s also true that family members are more likely to pitch in with nitty-gritty help like cleaning, or financial help, so if it feels right (and in some relationships it doesn’t), ask them to roll up their sleeves and help—and process your innermost feelings with friends.”
IN ORDER TO RECEIVE, WE MUST NOTICE WHAT IS GIVEN.
“In the depths of our suffering, “valuing what we receive” can be a lot harder than it sounds. Sometimes, the vastness and intensity of emotions of despair or fear can crowd everything else out and keep us from seeing the beautiful things being offered to us. The irony, of course, is that this is the time when we need these beautiful things the most.”
WHAT DOES GRIEF LOOK LIKE?
For starters, grief usually comes with some kind of tangible primary loss. It can be loss of mobility, energy, or appearance if dealing with health. It can be loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a marriage. Even in depression, there is loss of the ability to feel just about anything. Caregivers of people who are ill lose companionship they counted on. People who experience miscarriage and infertility experience the loss of a dream of the future.
These are the key primary losses a person may experience during grief:
LOSS OF IDENTITY
We often underestimate how much we rely on easy narratives about who we are in the world until we’re blindsided by a primary loss that strips us bare of them.
LOSS OF COMPANIONSHIP
Our most difficult times often, at their core, are about a significant loss of companionship.
LOSS OF COMMUNITY
Loss and transition affect not only our most intimate relationships; they change our community as well, and that change usually feels really lonely.
LOSS OF CONFIDENCE
People who’ve been fired, who are dealing with a new illness, who are getting divorced, you name it—loss can create some of the most demanding responsibilities in our lives about our well-being, medical and legal options, our finances, where we’ll live, or how we’ll raise our children, exactly at a time when we have the fewest emotional reserves to learn and cope.
LOSS OF ECONOMIC SECURITY
Loss can create economic stress—like increased health-care costs, the cost of divorce attorneys, loss of income, child-care costs, and a host of other expenses.
ALL OUR DIFFICULT TIMES INVOLVE SOME DEGREE OF SHAME, FEAR, AND LONELINESS. AT TIMES LIKE THAT, WE DON’T NEED ANYONE TO IMPRESS US OR SKILLFULLY TALK US OUT OF OUR PAIN.
The EMPATHY MENU
Is good at asking questions, is attentive to the answers, and offers up space for the person to just be quiet with someone, if talking feels like too much.
Sends texts just saying Hi and I’m thinking of you
Prays and sends positive, healing intentions.
Sends a card, notes to say Hello, I’m thinking of you, I’m sorry, I’m proud, or You are awesome. Or something else even more poetic.
the PRACTICAL GIFT-GIVER
Gives coupons for a cleaning service, food, massages.
Drops off fresh and/or frozen meals.
the WHIMSICAL/FUNNY GIFT-GIVER
Gives silly gifts like a voodoo doll or a bright pink wig, maybe takes the person to a stand-up show.
Forgives broken plans and keeps on scheduling. (This is actually a characteristic everyone should aspire to when helping.)
Drives and keeps company on important dates.
Makes something unique and meaningful—a quilt, a song, an awesome playlist.
Finds out people who can help and makes an introduction, from medical and alternative doctors, to lawyers, to therapists, to someone else who’s been in a similar situation.
Invites the person out to movies, drinks, or accompanies them in a marathon of watching the dumbest reality television they can find.
Digs into the latest research (possibly shielding the patient from falling into the vast and terrifying abyss of medical information on the Internet).
Does the yard work, brings plants.
Runs errands—from food shopping, to picking up dry cleaning, to housework.
Creates binders of important financial, health, and legal information.
the BABYSITTER/EXTENDED CAREGIVER
Spends time with the kids or the frail people in our lives.
the PROJECT MANAGER
Coordinates other people’s help. (Nobody wants eight casseroles on the same day.)
Helps out with costs on babysitting, medical or legal bills, and so on, and doesn’t need to be paid back.
the PUBLIC RELATIONS GURU
The point of contact for sharing updates with friends.
Invites the person to stay at their house or invites them over for meals.
“COMPASSION = NOTICE, Feel, RESPOND
EMPATHY = COMPASSION + IMAGINATION”
Two tendencies most exhibit the “needy” helper that lies within many of us:
Someone who pushes themselves onto someone in their difficult time with a lot of advice and unappreciated overtures.
Someone who anxiously reacts with neediness around someone in their difficult time.
LIST OF GO-TO PHRASES
KEEP THESE IN YOUR BACK POCKET FOR WHENEVER YOU NEED THEM:
•DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT?
•IT’S NOT BORING, I WANT TO HEAR.
•WHAT’S THAT LIKE FOR YOU?
•HOW ARE YOU DOING, NOW?
•THIS MUST BE HARD, BUT YOU’RE DOING GREAT.
•I TRUST YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING.
•I’VE SEEN YOU GET THROUGH HARD THINGS BEFORE. HARD AS THIS FEELS NOW, I KNOW YOU CAN GET THROUGH THIS.
•YES, KNOWING THIS DOES CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT YOU. I SEE YOU AS EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL AND COURAGEOUS.
•I RESPECT YOU.
•I LOVE YOU.
KNOWING WHEN TO LISTEN AND WHAT TO SAY STARTS WITH:
•SAYING “I’M SORRY.”
•ASKING “HOW ARE YOU, TODAY?” (Don’t forget to listen to the answer.)
•FOCUSING ON AND ACKNOWLEDGING THE PERSON’S PRESENT FEELINGS, NOT JUST THE FACTS.
•PAYING ATTENTION TO CUES: IS IT A GOOD TIME? OR DOES THE PERSON NEED A LITTLE SPACE? (DON’T BE AFRAID TO FOLLOW UP IF NOW ISN’T THE RIGHT TIME.)
•EXPRESSING THAT THE PERSON IS NOT ALONE.
•EXPRESSING FAITH IN THE PERSON’S (PROBABLY RATTLED) JUDGMENT.
•SHARING THE LOVE.
•USING TECHNOLOGY FOR GOOD.
•GIVING SPACE WHEN SPACE IS NEEDED.
•BEING YOURSELF WITH YOUR “MUNDANE” PROBLEMS.
AN INCOMPLETE COLLECTION OF UNHELPFUL STATEMENTS
•“EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.”
•“THIS IS GOD’S PLAN.”
•“WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER.”
•“IT COULD BE WORSE.”
•“AT LEAST IT’S NOT CANCER.”
•“JUST THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS.”
•“GOD DOESN’T GIVE YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE.”
•“AT LEAST YOU HAVE ONE HEALTHY CHILD.”
•“YOU CAN ALWAYS JUST ADOPT.”
“•REALLY, ANYTHING BEGINNING WITH “JUST” OR “AT LEAST.
“When people share their vulnerability with us, it’s a sign of trust and friendship. So it’s natural that when a friend presents their difficult news, after figuring it out without you, that you want to ask “Why didn’t you tell me?” But in some situations, it’s just too hard or scary for the person in a difficult time to talk about it. Instead of focusing on what that person didn’t do, focus on how you can be of support now. If your friend has a general pattern of holding back vulnerability and it’s hard for you, you can address it at some later time, just not around the time of crisis.”
“IF YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN OFFERING TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE CARE, WE WOULD CHOOSE TOO MUCH.“
That said, pay attention to cues and consider the following:
•Respect it when someone doesn’t want to talk about what’s going on.
•Ask people in the person’s inner circle if they have an inkling of how someone wants the news handled.
•Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, if you can.
•Be aware of how you would want the news handled yourself.
•If you believe privacy is a core concern, yet you feel strongly about reaching out, do so discreetly.
This is when we don’t accept reality or the facts because they’re too painful. We simply pretend that the bad thing is not happening.
This is when we attribute our own thoughts and feelings to someone else who does not have those thoughts and feelings.
This is when a person’s new trauma brings up our old trauma from the past. It can even make us get more emotional now than when we first experienced the hardship. (One example would be getting really angry at your friend’s recent ex because you never got to express that anger at your own ex.)
When we want to avoid feeling emotional pain, our intellect can take over. Instead of feeling for someone, we analyze them or their situation.
SO WHAT TO DO WHEN FACED WITH THE LURE OF ADVICE-GIVING?
1.AVOID SUGGESTING CURES.
Though the instinct may come from the right place, remember: force-feeding your sick friend wheatgrass, or some other thing you read about online, is not helpful.
2.AVOID THE WORD “SHOULD.
If you have entered a house of sorrow, and you feel the word should crossing your lips, stop talking. There’s probably food around—eat something instead.
3.AVOID ALL OF THESE:
- Why not adopt instead of IVF?
- What about couple counseling?
- Have you tried yoga?
- I read that meat causes cancer
- Have you looked for a job on Craiglist?
- I’ve heard eating raw foods will cure you
The Sage gives advice when it’s unasked.
The Optimist assures the friend that life is still pretty good.
The Doomsayer thinks of all the horrible possibilities associated with the problem
The Epidemiologist asks many fact-based questions before considering how the friend is feeling
The All About Me
The All About Me turns the conversation to himself or herself in an effort to show empathy.
EMPATHY IS NOT TELLING SOMEONE HOW TO FEEL.
SQUELCH THE FOLLOWING IMPULSES:
•SUGGESTING THAT YOU KNOW HOW SOMEONE FEELS
•IDENTIFYING THE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM
•TELLING SOMEONE WHAT THEY SHOULD DO ABOUT THEIR HARD TIME
•REACTING WITH PESSIMISM
•MINIMIZING PEOPLE’S CONCERNS
•BRINGING “PERSPECTIVE” TO A SITUATION WITH FORCED POSTIVITY OR PLATITUDES
•TELLING SOMEONE HOW STRONG OR SAINTLY THEY ARE
Too often, efforts at comforting a suffering person are made before that person is asked how they’re feeling. We want to help by fixing, but that often implies the “fixer” is right, and the person being fixed is “defective” for not having “solved” the problem on their own. When such attempts to comfort don’t work, it’s not a problem of the sufferer being unappreciative—it’s simply that the consoler failed to connect.
ASK. LISTEN. LEARN.
For a griever, there is rarely any more comfort than companionship on the awful path of sorrow. Hopefully, that path will also include joy in time. But there is no guarantee that it will, and there is no timeline for when it does. There is no human gain in shying away from that reality, as difficult as it may feel. That is the plight of the griever; that is the plight of the witness.
All the Best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.
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