Right after I came home from my mission, I was really awkward in social situations. It had been so long since I had been able to just sit around, be lazy, and talk to a group of people my own age (without feeling guilty for it), that I would actually think in my head, "You are in a social situation. Don't be a dork. Smile. Now say something semi-intelligent. Turn your head and smile at that person. Sit. Good job, Cristin."

Fortunately I've progressed and can now handle most social situations without taking commands from a "little voice in my head." Notice, I said MOST. I still am at a real loss as to what to say when I'm told bad news. (When I say bad news, I don't mean "I stubbed my toe." I mean something along the lines of "Someone died.")

This past week I've had two different friends tell me two different bad things. One lost a grandparent and the other had a miscarriage. I feel awful for them and of course wish I could help them through their grief. I panic when I am told news like this because I worry so much about saying the wrong thing. I start going through a mental list of what not to say and then questioning what I am about to say. This mental process can take anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds and it usually makes for a very awkward silence as I nod my head and go, "Ohhhh." The things on my list of what not to say usually include -

"Hey, stop feeling sorry for yourself. It could be worse, you could be starving or homeless."
"You're right, that is so awful. I don't know how you're going to get over this."

After that, I am clueless.

One of the worst thing to ever happen to me was my parents' divorce when I was a teenager. I hated telling people because they would say things like, "Oh, I am so sorry," and I hated any kind of pity. I just wanted people to treat me like things were normal. It seemed that after I told someone about the divorce, every time we met later they would look at me with these probing eyes and say things like, "How are you doing? Do you need to talk?" I hated that. I also hated people saying things like, "I'm sorry."

So, what do I say? Usually, "Oh," for one minute and then "That's bad." Then I proceed to ask questions, "How old was your grandparent? Was it sudden? When is the funeral?" or "How far along were you?" ... the whole time worrying that I am going to trip on a land mine with a poorly worded question and offend my grieving friend.

I wish there was a book devoted to what I should and should not say in these situations. Kind of like a How to Win Friends and Influence People, but maybe titled, How to Care About Your Friends Going Through Difficult Situations Without Being Offensive.


  1. I REALLY REALLY hate it when people gasp. So people who read this, don't EVER GASP! That is really annoying. I think it is okay to say, "I'm sorry to hear, let me know if I can do anything for you". But GASPING- no... just don't. Same as trying to sound OVERLY sympathetic- that is annoying too. No one can imagine what pain a person is going through so its best not to PRETEND like you are in pain aswell.

  2. Oh gosh, I wish I could get that book. I never know what to say! I feel like I am always going to say the wrong thing and have someone think I was unfeeling or too overly sympathetic.

  3. It is hard, too. I always feel like saying, "Oh, I know what you're going through, my grandpa died last year," but who wants to hear about other peoples' misery during their own?? I just like wallowing, not hearing about everyone else's.

    Too bad there's sorrow in the world.

  4. These are the type of situations when you want to be in person! Because if you don't know what to say at least you can have a really sad and sympathetic facial expression where as on the phone they think you're just ignoring them..or being rude.

  5. Cristin, you're better at this than you think. When I miscarried what you said was one of the best condolences I got. And I quote "Wow, that really sucks." Maybe that wouldn't have been the right thing to say to someone else, but it was perfect for me.

    My aunt on the other hand said "Oh, better luck next time." Seriously? That should go on your list of things to never say.

  6. Never say, "You'll get over it in a year or two." Okay, so no one ever said that to me, but still, that would be awful. It is okay to ask how the person is dealing with the tough situation, but remember that depending on your relationship to them, they'll probably answer something like "fine" or "good" when they really might not be.

    Most of all, listen. If the person wants to talk about it, then that's what they need most. But don't press the issue. Saying, "I'm sorry" is always good. It was just enough for me to know that you cared and were sensitive enough to not trivialize my grief.

  7. I'm with you on this. I can't handle it. I also can't handle when people cry. No idea what to do. So I'm super impressed when people handle it all well. I always just try to keep my distance but do nice stuff like take them dinner or a plate of cookies, or something else to let them know I'm thinking of them without having to say anything.

  8. When Matt's mother passed away while he was on his mission he came home for the funeral then finished his mission. When he came home the second time he didn't experience the grand "welcome home" that most missionaries got. He got pity and a lot of people avoiding him because they didn't know how to talk to him. All he wanted was for someone to come up to him and talk to HIM, and not to worry about mentioning his mom. He just wanted some friends or at least friendly people.



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