So, to another Elephant. (My posts are getting longer, How do we feel about this?)
A lot and I mean a lot of the messages I’ve received start with the phrase “I don’t know what to say”, people will go on to apologise or worry that I might not want them to be in touch. They then go on to write something so kind and eloquent it blows my socks off*. There seems to have been a lot of deleting and re-writing of messages too and this all got me thinking.
Why is society so bad at teaching us what is the ‘right thing to say’. Is there not an Etiquette guide? There probably is, but is it any good?
I’ve just checked my copy of Debrett’s Etiquette for girls** (though it says ‘girls’ , there’s a woman’s figure on the front, I think the publishers are being a bit coy here) and I can’t see a chapter or even a section on the topic (I’m going to do more research on that, you can be sure).
I’ll try and be as honest with how I feel*** on the subject, based on this brush with cancer and losing my mum (which also seems to fluster people), I truly don’t mean to offend.
Firstly, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say there is ‘no right thing to say” because there sure is a wrong thing; if you tell someone they deserve to be ill, for instances – deffo not cool. (To be clear this has not happened to me). It is also not cool, Mr Doctor Man, to say, on hearing of my mum’s death “well the mind was strong but the body was weak” – implication of weakness in a dead loved one = bad. Also not brilliant, Mr Gentleman, was when you came up after my mum’s funeral (where I had just spoken) and said “I was at a funeral last week, where the daughter gave a truly inspirational speech.” So the over all tone of what you say should basically not imply blame (or dent my ego because I’ll remember it for years….)
Here’s one for the sick or bereaved – you do not have to tell someone, if you don’t want to; if you only have a few minutes, or you do not know the person very well, or you are either feeling very good that day or you are not very chipper at all. It may be all consuming to you, but move on with a smile and a cheery wave (is it slightly sick and wrong of me to think, as I do this, “well, you’ve just dodged an awkward bullet my friend”, and then want to kick them?) It’s not lying and it’s ok, it’s sometime better even, because -
And this seems very unfair sometimes but YOU, as sick or bereaved person extraordinaire, are going to have to take the lead when telling someone. You are basically punching them hard in the head and then, as they fall backwards, you will need to run round to catch them as well. You then need to remember, that people get a bit ‘spinny’ after head wounds. This is a metaphor, please don’t literally do this. It all takes precious, very precious, energy. If you don’t have it or simply don’t want use it (which is totally fine) revert to a smile and a cheery wave.
For the friends – Do not worry too much about saying the wrong thing, likelihood is unless it’s specatularly crass (see above) we are going to move on pretty quick – got other fish to fry, if you know what I mean. The sentiment will remain long after your words.
Ok, this one is controversial and very personal; I, myself, am not a huge fan of “I’m Sorry”, mainly because my automatic reply is generally “it’s not your fault” which then makes me feel like a tool (unless it is your fault – in which case, please take the pin out of the voodoo doll, I’ve learned my lesson). Really annoyingly, as I know myself, it’s the first thing you want to say, it’s reflex. I have said it in the last week infact, and I was sorry. It takes a minute to think of something to say without using the word Sorry….Which goes to prove what a contrary minx I am AND how difficult this mine field is. Perhaps we can declare ‘I’m sorry’ a neutral zone and I shall get over my self….
I do much prefer a “It’s shit” or ‘It’s rubbish” **** and a quick hug (hug is optional, depending on how tactile either side is, although if you are the reticent hug giver – man up and hug them for crying out loud)
Now, this ones important, friends of; even if it’s a huge shock, even if it’s a close friend – try not to cry, at least until you get the lay of the land. You are dealing with someone, who is probably spending a great deal of time and energy, trying not to cry, a lot of the time (in the early days mostly). Perhaps they need a good weep or perhaps they’ve done their makeup and really don’t, the truth is tears beget tears, so let them take the lead. And definitely don’t do sad eyes!
To both sides, while laying it out in an email or text is reprehensible when dumping some one. It is, I think, a good way to go in these situations. Tears can be shed in private, correct language used, long boring explanations of type and treatments put succinctly (and copied and pasted again and again – good tip there), minimal energy used, it’s win win. Or a good back up if you think you messed up the first time.
For the record, if you want to get the message across, in whatever way you want, then do, life is short. It really does feel good to know you’re being thought about and it sure breaks up the day.
You know what else is really nice? Letters, letters and cards that have news in them that have nothing to do with you, the sick or bereaved. I think it’s lovely to know what else is going on in the world. (Fist bumps to Miss S and Miss B. xxx)
Very last, final thing, and I find my self typing it again and again – it’s what my mother always used to say, so it must be important, be kind to each other. In fact, it is so important I’m adding to to the Little Blog Mantras – Just Be Kind.
* How lucky am I to be surrounded by such wonders of the human world?
** I do really own this book, I often need to look up the correct way to address an envelope to a Lord or which gun to use on safari….
*** Let’s please remember the 1 2 3 4 Mantras of Little Blog 1) I hope it doesn’t happen to you. 2) these are my own personal views 3) check your bits and bobs 4) everything is better with cake.
****I prefer ‘it’s shit’, the slightly aggressive edge buoys me on and this situation is, in fact, really shit.