I am sure that everyone has been in this situation (this is an excerpt from THE RICHEST MAN IN TOWN by V.J. Smith)...
It is amazing what can happen just by paying attention. He mentions going to a store, where the check out person asked people how they were doing or how their day was and then he looked them in the eye and waited for their response...what a concept! He said " I thought it was odd, but I guess that I had grown accustomed to people asking me how I was doing simply out of a robotic conversational habit. After a while, you don't give any thought to the question and just mumble something back. I could say, "I just found out I have six months to live," and someone would reply, "Have a nice day!" This cashier seemed genuine about wanting to know how these people felt, what a difference he made in these people's lives. Simple but ...MAGIC!
I had the same type of situation happen yesterday when I received a reminder call from one of my doctors. The nurse told me who she was and then asked how I was doing. I don't think I even got 3 words out before she interrupted me and told me what she was calling about. Gee, that is a tough one when it comes from a health professional who really should be wanting to know how you are doing or healing. I know that maybe,it is a lot to ask now a days, with everyone so busy but....couldn't we just not ask, if we really don't care, have time to listen or don't want to know?
One of my dear friends passed away from Cancer this year and my last conversation with her was just 2 days before she died. We talked for over an hour and one of the things that we laughed and complained about,were all the crazy (I think we said the word stupid but neither one of us like that word, it seemed more appropriate but we changed it anyway ) things that people say to you when you have cancer. I do believe the very same thing happens with other diseases, traumas, divorces, deaths and etc. but for now we were just comparing notes about cancer. She said "Lynn, which ever one of us lives the longest we have to promise each other that we will write a book about WHAT NOT TO SAY TO PEOPLE WITH CANCER!" We laughed and then made our promises over the phone.
I would say that equally you could write half the book on what not to say and for the positive part ...write what to say. But it would only take a paragraph or less on what to say, not half of the book. I can complain about this because, I myself have made some of these same mistakes too...unknowingly. For instance we talked about how people joke about you having a wig because of chemo treatments. She was the one who had the experience on this one, so I kept notes on her thoughts. She said," no one wants to take a drug that is so strong that it destroys your immune system, no one wants to lose their hair, no one wants to be that sick." And yet people joked about it often or make it seem like it was no big deal. She wore her wigs and they looked great ,but she told me that they are uncomfortable, itchy and hot. Now that doesn't sound like something that you want to joke about does it? There are many people who tell you all kinds of stories of people that they know,who have had cancer. Many of the stories don't have happy endings and more than anything I think they are at a loss of what to say and they are uncomfortable, so they just keep talking. They really have no idea how deep your worries are and how much suffering you may have to go through. I am just mentioning this because it has been happening to me and my family. Plus, like I said, I have done this on more than one occasion too and I wish I would have known some of these thoughts and feelings before I said anything.
So what do you say to people with Cancer? Here were our top choices...
1. I am so sorry to hear about your diagnosis, is there anything I can do?
2. I can't even imagine how scary all of this might be, I will certainly keep you in my thoughts and prayers!
3. How are you dear friend,and what can I do?
4. Please know that you can call me any time, night or day!
5. I know you are a strong person and if any one can beat this you can, I am praying for you!
6. I will hope and pray the best for you and your family!
7. I am sure you will know what to do and when to do it. I believe in you and will support you in your decisions!
See that isn't big enough for even one page but the comments that hurt ( and we are sure people didn't mean it necessarily that way) are too many to mention. But some one should mention them, because it would help the whole situation. Some times people even say some of these painful comments to our kids and that is really hard to take. Our kids are already scared enough, they do not need any negativity, stories of someone that you know had cancer and or comments that really hurt. So it is a good reminder for me after reading this article, to realize what our robotic conversational habits are and try to imagine (for just a moment) what you would want someone to say to you, if you were the one who had cancer, a death, divorce or any other life threatening or altering situation?
Bottom line....kindness does matter and it takes sooooo little effort but... it does take time and some thought to make it happen. Thinking about what we say before it leaves our lips, wouldn't be a bad habit for any of us. If we were to be more conscience about that then, I believe a lot more people would be happy, supported and have a feeling that they really do matter to you. Just something to think about. Life keeps giving us lessons like this....everyday!