In 1998 my office manager's mother died suddenly in an automobile accident. My immediate reaction was horror and sorrow. I had met her mother a few times; she had a great laugh. What I said out loud: "God that sucks."
In summer of 2001 when the anniversary of my own mother's sudden death rolled around, the office manager and I had a sort of blinking-back-tears reminiscence session. "You know," she said to me, "You were the only person who really said something kind and understanding to me when my mother passed." That put me in a spot, because I seemed to remember I had said, "God that sucks."
"Um, what do you remember me saying?"
"You said, 'God that sucks.' That was the most honest and kind thing you could have said."
When the shit hits the fan, the brown is all around. The smell fills the whole room. There's no escape. But some people have an Ignore function, or an invent-your-own-reality function, or something like that.
"Try the All Raw Vegetables Diet -- it will cure your cancer."
"Think one positive thought first thing in the morning -- it will cure your depression."
"Get more exercise -- it will cure your chronic fatigue."
"Your problem is you need to... be more assertive." Or talk louder, or get more fresh air, or avoid eating corn, or have your colors done.
Worst one ever: "You should be happy your mother is dead -- she's with God now." (Someone actually said that to me when my grief was still so raw any gentle breeze made me wince in pain.)
Can't you people see the brown? Don't you notice that smell?
I may be: sad, tired, depressed, curmudgeonly, downcast, sick... but I do have a better hold on reality than an awful lot of people.
But what I wanted to say is that when someone tells me they feel crappy, I mostly don't try to fix it. Since I know what they mean, I mostly just commiserate. Maybe I go so far as to ask, "So, how are you coping with that? Wanna talk about it, or change the subject?"
Maybe that's why, looking back on my 50-plus years of interacting with people on this planet, so many people have opened up to me about their problems. A sympathetic ear. Yes, some of them were manipulators. Some were attention whores. But some were just relieved that I didn't immediately go into "Let's fix this" mode. They were helped by a simple admission: "God that sucks."
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