I was flipping through the "Take Our Advice" edition of the Reader's Digest recently, and noticed a 1/2 page blurb entitled "How To Comfort a Friend." It states that if you ask someone in a crisis how they're doing, and they say "I'm Great!," it means they don't want to talk.
I couldn't disagree with that advice more.
I talked at length with my niece today, about how awkward it is, sometimes, to talk about the heartache in our life right now. For me, a "how are you?" brings me up short for a second. My brain does this weird data-scan, analyzing the tone of the question, calculating the degree of the possibility that the person I'm speaking to knows what's going on in our lives, and how much they really want to know how I am.
I have to decide, and answer accordingly.
I've answered honestly before and realized that I just dropped a bomb on some unsuspecting soul. Other times I worry about the ambush effect, respond with a polite "just fine, thank you," and end up wondering if I haven't given someone an inadvertent cold shoulder.
So, Reader's Digest, "I'm Great," doesn't always mean "shut up, you."
And yet, other times, it does.
My sister and niece both have expressed exhaustion at answering the same questions over and over again. On bad days, it can be deconstructive to rewind, replay, remember, or dwell on not keeping the mashed potatoes down or getting a port cleaned out. Yes, sometimes "I'm doing great" does mean "shut up, you."
As much as we struggle with our responses, we know that you also dance around what to say or do. It's interesting to me to note variable strengths and courage in people. Many are bold and step right up, with offers, cards, food, phone calls. Others run for fear of being awkward; or say "I just don't know what to say." Others, still can take us completely aback. I was once left speechless after opening up to someone who responded cheerily, "wow. Sucks to be you."
I'm sure that comment was wrought from sheer nerves, an attempt to make a joke. We are all, quite simply, comfortable and uncomfortable with different things. One of the most comforting notes I got from a friend after telling everyone that Teri's care would be turned over to hospice read "Well, fuck." Not everyone would have found that comforting. Other people are less blunt, more concerned with propriety and pleasantness, and smoothing over certain subjects and certain words.
Maybe we all just don't know what to say or do sometimes, but I think the most important thing, in the long run, is that everyone is making an attempt. We express our concerns, and we accept well wishes.
If we have to dance around one another now and again, that's ok. I can promise you this: Whether you are bold or terrified or competent or awkward, we are infinitely comforted that you are just brave enough to show up for the dance.
Gnightgirl's Advice on How To Comfort a Friend:
Show up for the dance.