20 April 2015

The Altar of Well-Meaning Advice

Crying freaks me out.

You know in the movies when the woman breaks down into hysterical tears and the poor boy doesn’t know what to do about it. Hug her? Get her a tissue? Slowly walk away while keeping eye contact the whole way?

I’m a girl, but that’s usually my reaction to tears. I know when I cry, I like to be left alone (except by the husband, who is required to hug me until I tell him he can leave). So that’s what I usually do.

Over the last month or so, I’ve watched a lot of friends and family members struggling. I won’t go into details—we all know that this life can throw curve balls and sling mud on a level that rivals political campaigns. Just imagine your worst day or week or year and perhaps double it.

I’ve had a lot of friends who have had miscarriages. This is a horrible situation to be in. Years ago I was speaking with a friend’s husband, and I simply told him how sorry I was.

He glared at me.

I said nothing more, mostly because I had nothing more to say. I’ve never been through that. What advice could I possibly offer him?

After a second, his face softened, and he said, “Thanks. I thought you were going to go on.”

“Uh, no.”

Then he snapped. He told me how many people tried to tell him about the time that their friend or family member went through the same thing, or that he should just turn to God, turn away from God, go take a vacation, quit his job to be home with his wife…pick a statement and someone offered it up on the altar of well-meaning advice.

He’s a passionate guy, and he was furious. He said to me, “You know what? You can tell the people who have been through it, because they don’t elaborate. They look at you and say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ You know that they know how you feel, and they remember that nothing really helped them, so they just pat you on the shoulder and walk away. Why can’t other people do the same?”

At this point, I was glad I’d stuck with my simple sympathy.

But he’s right. In general, people who love you want to help you. They’re not always equipped to do so, but that hardly ever stops them. And sometimes it’s hard to not smack them. Or, in my cause, wonder why I’m not giving them a hug or offering them food.

We’re here to help one another through this mess of life. I wish I had the perfect answers for everyone who had questions, and I wish I knew the exact words to say to pull someone out of a downward spiral, but I rarely do. And most of the time, if you’re the one crashing, and you’re not ready to be comforted, no one’s words will help you

As an author, I put my characters through hell all the time. As a friend, I wish I could write the problems away, but it doesn’t work like that.

Everyone is going through something. It may not feel as important or as real as your own problems, but for the person suffering, it is. Be a listening ear. Don’t judge, and whatever you do, don’t make light of someone else’s pile of issues.

No writing advise today, just a call to be a good friend. Everyone needs one or two.

1 comment:

Sarah E Boucher said...

I love this, dear friend. Unadvice. How nice.