What Not To Say

One of our readers sent us a great piece about what not to say to another over 60 woman if she is involved in a change in her relationship status. We loved it and have it here. If you have comments and ideas to share with Sue about her story feel free to comment on this post or send us a message and we’ll get it to Sue.

The story got us thinking about what else not to say in difficult and often changing situations.   And, as we age, there are more “awkward” situations that test our ability to show support and sympathy but without offense. Even changes in weight or looks can cause an otherwise fabulous woman to say something inappropriate.

My favorite story of saying the wrong thing was back in 1977 at my 10 year high school reunion: “So Mary — when is the baby due?” You got it — I will never forget her face and comment “I am just fat Patty.” Alas less than a year ago – some 30 plus years later, I slipped again. Sure enough – Gloria wasn’t pregnant either. Now unless the woman is in the process of delivering I am not mentioning her having a baby.

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Here’s a few more tips — essentially here’s what NOT TO SAY when people are grieving.

Skip comparisons and bringing in your similar experience. Here are some examples I know you have heard or said. I too admit to a few slips.

  • “You know my Dad had the same cancer and they got it in time.”
  • “I was so distraught when Jan left me – I feel your pain.”

Skip assuming how other people feel — I have definitely made this mistake.

  • “You must be relieved after all the time you have been caring for h/h”
  • “It was her time – she was ready.” Having said this once and gotten my head bit off let me suggest extra caution on variations on this theme.

Forget references to the afterlife unless you are absolutely 100% positive they are believers. Even if they are believers — the timing could be off.

  • “You’ll see Harry in paradise some day soon”. A variation on this for my mother in law got a book thrown at my head.
  • “They are in a better place.”

Don’t downplay or make the person feel they were a fool ever to have gotten involved with the person, job, house or whatever it is that is now gone. And remember, just because something is absolutely TRUE, doesn’t mean you should say it!

  • “She was a bitch and everyone knew it – except you obviously. You’re well rid of her.”
  • “You won’t miss that corporate job — sure it paid the bills, but it ate your soul.”
  • “You couldn’t save him — he had to save himself.”

The older I get the more I believe in the point: less is more. Here’s a suggestion of what to say that could work in literally dozens of situations. It conveys concern and sympathy/empathy, but avoids remarks that while well-meaning, could potentially backfire.

Look the person in the eye, put your arm out to touch them in a light way — unless of course you already know they are one of those few folks who never want to be touched. Pause, and then starting with their name, speak softly and directly to the person.

“Bob/Carol I am so sorry about what you are going through (likely they are still suffering in some way). I am here to listen and help in the way that would be best for you.” Wait and determine if they do or do not want to talk, share or ask for help. Some people welcome a chance to share, others are more private, or in many cases too upset or tired to keep repeating the same “tale” multiple times.

You likely feel much better now that you have read this wonderful therapeutic blog — or, maybe not. Let me just say – be well, be happy and enjoy the day — and if the blog helps you, great — if not, just delete it.

Patty