A friend told me recently that she doesn’t like to tell people that she once lost an infant to still-birth. “People look at me like I’ve grown two heads,” she said. They’re nice, but they never act the same way to her afterward. It’s like her grief is this giant gorilla in the corner, making them uncomfortable.
It never even occurred to me that people would be like that, but it should have. You tell someone that something bad has happened, and they’ll say how awful it is, AND THEN THEY NEVER CALL YOU AGAIN.
I mean, I get it. What do you say? Do you ask? Do you bring it up first? Maybe they’re worried about calling your attention to this sadness. But honestly, do people really believe you’ve forgotten, that if they just hadn’t mentioned it, it wouldn’t have crossed your mind 100 times that day?
When my dad died, I wanted to talk about him. I wanted to reminisce and laugh and say, “Remember that time when he …” And if I ended up crying a little, that was okay. Luckily my mom felt the same way. We trade stories about Dad all the time, usually laughing about how crazy he was. The nice thing is, he stays alive in our minds that way. We don’t forget those little habits, and it’s like he’s right here with us.
If you know someone who is going through something tough, call them. You don’t have to mention the bad thing; if the person wants to talk about it, they’ll bring it up. Talk about the weather, talk about restaurants, talk about something in the news. But be there. Make contact. Pick up the phone. Say, “I just wanted to see how you’re doing.” What you’re not saying is the most important thing: “I care about you. I’m here.” If they want to talk about the child who died, or the father who died, don’t change the subject. Let them remember with you. It’s the best gift you can give them.
But whatever you do, don’t let your own discomfort keep you from staying in touch. At this moment, your discomfort is nothing compared to what they’re feeling, so don’t indulge yourself that way. Suck it up and call. Tell them, “I’m so worried I’ll say the wrong thing and make you sad.” And no matter how long it’s been, pick up the phone. It’s never too late to make amends.