Sometimes, it’s important to relate to people.
“Hey — you tore your ACL? Me too! This is what to expect….”
“Hey — you are in the same class I took last year? Here’s how I dealt with it…”
But the few times it’s unacceptable is when someone dies, or when someone has Cancer.
You cannot relate to the pain they are experiencing. You do not know how it has affected them, as everyone experiences death, loss and grief in their own way. Often people try and relate stories of their friends or loved one’s who have had cancer, too.
Oh — you have cancer? I know someone who had the same thing and died last year.
Oh — you have cancer? How’d you get it? Did you smoke?
Cancer is not something we can control getting! People who haven’t smoked EVER can get lung cancer. People who ALWAYS wear sunscreen can get melanoma. Often the “healthiest” of people get cancer — and sometimes it’s all genetic. Don’t ask how someone got their cancer — they don’t know themselves. And think about why you’re asking. Are you scared you might get it– or do you genuinely care about how the person is surviving such an awful experience.
When someone’s family member dies often the best things are to meet the person where they are. Just say “Hi, I am thinking of you. I hope you have a nice day.” If they bring up the death in their family, then go from there. Or if you knew the person you can say how great they were, or they will be missed. But do not say they are in a better place.
And do not say — “Oh, my Dad died last year.” This is their time — not yours. It’s sad your own family died, but when you were mourning we mourned with you. In this immediate instance, it’s not the right thing to say. Maybe in the future. Everyone mourns differently so its good to be aware of that. It may make them feel more alone.
And again, don’t ask “How Are You?” this puts pressure on the grieving to answer that they are good, when they are not.
I keep writing about this topic, of what NOT to say — since it’s so difficult for all of us. Even those trained in how to speak to people. We want to jump in and take away the pain but often don’t know how. We also are humans and want to be in the action. But take a step back for a second and realize it’s not about us right now. So refrain from relating to your friend in need. Just sit and recognize how hard it must be for them. Remember they may not want to be defined by cancer, death or illness. If you have something helpful to say that focuses on them — okay. But try not to bring it back to your own insecurities. It’s hard to recognize that in ourselves.
Cancer is deadly. Death is hard. It affects everyone differently.