Etiquette for Trying Times

I remember it like it was yesterday: my father was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and only had three more years to live. A feeling of helplessness overcame me, and I was at a loss for words, which was rare when dealing with my dad. My father was a very proud and private man so he chose to only tell a few people about his diagnosis. The unsettling part was that even though he only told a few trusted confidantes about his illness, some seemed to be very uncomfortable with him after that, with a few even avoiding him.

Let’s face it, when we find out people are going through challenging times, we may not always know what to do or say. In the past, I even admit to acting strangely while being around friends during trying times in their lives, and I am a certified etiquette consultant trained to put people at ease. The following tips helped me tremendously to be there emotionally and physically during difficult times in other people’s lives.

  • Do attentively listen to the person. 
    Sometimes, the person going through a difficult time just wants someone who will listen to them without trying to offer advice or fixing the situation. We all have that one person we call when we are angry and once we are finished venting, we feel better. Lend your ears to the person so that they can vent, scream, cry or whatever they need to do so they can feel better.
  • Don’t bring up negative stories.
    Be careful about what stories you bring up when talking to a person who may be dealing with an illness. If you are talking with someone who is newly diagnosed with a terrible disease, it is not the time to bring up how your friend recently died of cancer. I know this seems like common sense, but some people may get uncomfortable when talking to people who are sick and end up saying the wrong things even when they are only trying to help.
  • Do offer to help with chores, food, kids, etc. 
    Let the person know that if they need anything, you are there. Early on, they may not take you up on the offer because they may want to keep their independence. In the end, you want them to know that you are always willing to help them in any way you can.
  • Don’t disappear from their life.
    I made the mistake of doing this and almost lost a friend. A good friend of mine lost her child and I felt so bad every time I was around her that I stopped reaching out. I realized the error in my ways and with time and work on my part the friendship was saved, but I will always feel bad for not being there in her time of need because of how I felt. We may feel sad and uncomfortable being around people during challenging periods, but that is when they need us the most so be present in their lives.
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