Dealing With Touchy Situations

3 12 2010

A lot of people don’t know how to respond to sad news: a death in the family, an illness, a recent divorce.  This is made more complicated by the fact that different people want you to respond in different ways, which can lead to all sorts of awkwardness.

Take the example of divorce.  Is this a sad, tragic event?  Should you express that you’re sorry and are there for them if they need you?  Or is this a liberating decision and a move that the person feels quite positive about?  Emotions can be high in these delicate situations, and saying the wrong thing can often hit a sensitive point and have the exact opposite effect than intended.

For example, a close friend’s daughter is fighting a serious illness right now.  We are sending all of our thoughts and prayers and love in her direction and she has asked that people post words of encouragement on her guestbook to keep her strong through this ordeal.  But a nurse recently told her that “we’re going for a cure despite the odds!” and this comment kind of upset her because of course they are going for a cure, and they are dealing with so much that the last thing they can bring themselves to think about are the odds.

This reaction was totally understandable, but made me second guess everything that I had written to them.  In a guestbook post to the little girl, I mentioned visiting the eye doctor recently, but should I not have mentioned a doctor?  In another entry, I wrote about starting gymnastics and that I hoped we could play together when I am back in New York.  But should I have written that if she might not be able to run and jump and flip for a while?  Was it encouraging or insensitive?

These are tricky situations and often can feel like dancing around on eggshells.  Does anyone have words of advice?

posted by ayo




7 responses

6 12 2010

I’ve been put in many of those situations. You want to comfort the person but don’t know exactly how or what the correct things to say would be. The best strategy think really deeply about how they must be feeling. Talk to them about how they are feeling and get a gist of where they stand. After you have figured that out you can move forward and respond in the best way possible.

6 12 2010

Corina, you’re totally right… when you have the chance to get some one on one time with the person and get a true feel for their mood and situation. It’s harder when you’re slightly more removed from the person (either geographically or emotionally), but I agree that it’s definitely important to observe a bit before opening your mouth and getting involved. Thanks for your advice.

8 12 2010
barbara j. levy

you find out a lot about who are your friends and who needs to be cut out of your life during these times. Difficult situations like you have described need support . Phone calls can be difficult but they are treasured. best advice on calls: just calling to say i am thinking about you (sending prayers) but understand if you are too tired to chat. gives the patient or family a chance to say thanks for the call. it all counts. That way it can be a 30 second call but your friend and her family know they are in your prayers and thoughts. Send a funny card–depending on your relationship there are some very funny cards for folks in the hospital. if they want to talk then it is your job to listen. just follow their lead—if they ask you something (maybe they are in the mood to hear something positive) just answer. do not be put off by not knowing what to say or do. it is so much worse not to receive a call or note both for the patient or her family. if you have any other questions just ask. I can only speak from personal experience. it will be 4 years in March since Moshe died. There were ‘friends’ at work who would not look me in the eye or speak to me when i returned to work. needless to say i do not talk to them anymore. I was move by the folks who dropped off cards and notes on my desk saying they were there for me.

i also have experience with divorce –lucky you!! my divorce was the most positive move i have with tells me the news— i ask if this is good or bad news? i offer encouragement if they say good and offer help and listen (mostly try to build them up emotionally). For those who say it is bad news and the ex is not paying child support i know how to work the system. learned the hard way and got all back child support.

probably wrote too much but hope some of this helps! barb

Ps. how long are you staying in La. I do have family there and could get the shul info etc.


20 12 2010

Barb, thanks for your thoughts and guidance. So meaningful to learn from your personal experiences, and helpful too.

It looks like Yair and I will be in LA through late January. We’ve made some friends here but mostly of the non-observant variety, so knowing Shabbat-friendly folks is always a plus – especially if they are in the Valley where we are living. Do you know what part of LA they are in?

8 12 2010
barbara j. levy

sorry i get up at 4:30am and spelling and grammer mistakes are present. hope you get the message. b

9 12 2010

When in doubt, quack.

20 12 2010


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