Someone, at some point, will say something inappropriate and potentially hurtful when you’re dealing with illness or death. There’s no getting around it; it happens. Maybe we should just face the reality that it’s part of the process.
I’ve learned through my own experience that most people truly do not mean to hurt us; they just don’t know what to say and through either their discomfort or lack of experience with loss, they say something totally insensitive.
While I’m assertive in most areas of communication, I have to admit that I’m a wimp when it comes to coining a response to inappropriate comments. Of course they always come when I’m at a vulnerable point. And I’m always shocked that someone would say something “like that” to me.
Knowing this will most likely happen, what should you do?
Most of us just keep quiet and seethe internally. It’s very sad when people share a comment made many years ago that still hurts; what’s worse, they may continue to hold a grudge with the person who said it.
What to say or do can be a real dilemma. Being silent may let the offender off the hook, thinking what they said was just fine. But proceed with caution when crafting a response. If the comment comes from a family member or friend, your response may put the relationship in jeopardy.
Some other thoughts on the subject:
If you choose to stand up for yourself and educate others on what's appropriate and what's not, you could always ask, “Why would you say that?” or “Why do you need to know?” Someone suggested, "That type of comment hurts me, so please stop." One of my favorite responses is to ask, "How would you feel if someone said something like that to you?" But be careful with that one; the last time I used it, they said they wouldn’t mind!
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.