It was one of those cringe-worthy conversations, the one I overheard today.
He asked where she had been the week before. She kind of avoided the question. He started listing reasons she might have been gone.
Were you sick? Were you traveling? Were you on vacation?
Red Alert! Danger! Back away, dude; it’s about to get scary.
And that’s when she said that a very close loved one died unexpectedly last week.
And the room’s hearts collectively twisted. Ouch.
I had heard it coming. I knew the tone too well. I could tell she was trying to avoid saying what went down last week, and I could tell he was just about to step in it by innocently continuing to ask.
Because it deflates a room, that whole “my brother died” thing. I know all too well the awkwardness that surrounds answering a seemingly harmless question (“Do you have any siblings?”) with a horrifying bombshell (“I used to but now I’m an only child because the brother I absolutely adored got cancer at 30 and died a month later, leaving a wife and a 15-month-old son behind!“*). People don’t know what to say, and why should they? I never did either, and I was the one going through it.
*I try to answer that question less insanely now. But I’m still not the best at it. I’m an awkward mess, really. I’m the Jack-In-The-Box of terrible news.
POP GOES THE CANCER!
I keep seeing articles about “what not to say to a person who is grieving!” and “What to definitely say to a person who is grieving!” and “Ten simple moves you can try tonight that will blow your man’s mind!”**
**That might have been Cosmo. Which I was never allowed to read. So after I got married, I bought and read one. BECAUSE I WAS A GROWN UP. Unfortunately, that magazine is indeed complete (sexist) crap. I hate it when my mom is right.
Anyway. The problem with these articles is that they don’t take into account that oh hey, we are all different people who grieve in different ways and somebody might want to cry in your arms and somebody else might want to make wildly inappropriate and morbid jokes about it with you.
(Guess which category I’m in?)
But you can count on the fact that at some point you’ll cause an incredibly awkward moment in a room, and you will definitely say “THE WRONG THING!” to somebody going through A BAD THING.
Because, say it with me: people! are! DIFFERENT!***
***(Did you read that in the “Wheel of Fortune” crowd voice? If not, please kindly leave. You do not belong here.)
So yeah, it will happen to you. But don’t worry.
I’m sure there’s an Internet article out there somewhere of ten things to say that always make things less awkward no matter who you just said the wrong thing to.