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