Sometimes people don’t know the right thing to say. In fact, they put their foot in their mouths pretty often. But sometimes they say just the right thing and it makes a world of difference.
I asked our community:
- Was there a time someone said the wrong thing? What do you wish they’d said instead?
- What’s the most comforting thing someone’s said to you?
Since this is a collection with experiences from quite a few caregivers, I’ve edited their comments lightly so they fit into the format.
The WORST, absolute WORST, thing to say is “I know how you feel.” – Marj
“Don’t leave her alone!” – My mom has Alz and is nonverbal and no longer able to walk. When I take her out with me, people say things like this. It always feels like an accusation, as if I’m irresponsible or neglectful. If they were really concerned, they’d offer to watch her for me! – Lauren
“Get over it and stop looking for handouts” – A family member that has had no contact with us since he got ill said this to me. Asking for help with medications and food is not looking for handouts. We shouldn’t have to ask. I no longer speak to him, as I have no time for negative mean people in my life. – Maggie
To be honest, there isn’t much a person can say to alleviate the pain and internal turmoil of watching a loved one descend into dementia. What was least helpful to me were people repeating religious platitudes. [We all know what they are.] – Kat
My niece Megan never said “Let me know if you need help.” She just jumped in and helped by bringing over food. It’s very hard to ask for help, especially male caregivers. Megan knew that and became our Angel. – Paul
People are reluctant to believe me when I say tell them there’s no cure. Nothing. No drug. No nothing. People will ask “Is he better?” WHAT?@#$%^! Everyone wants a happy ending…can’t blame them really. – Melissa B
“Lauren, you have all that responsibility” – I found it comforting for someone to acknowledge the depth of my situation. – Lauren
“I’m making dinner and bringing it to you. What time do you get home?” – This is the most comforting thing I’ve heard in 12 years of caregiving! – Maggie
One friend – a guy, who happens to be a radiologist – upon hearing my husband’s diagnosis offered help with navigating the medical system “anytime, anywhere, just call.” I believed him, so that was about the most comforting thing anyone has said. – Melissa B
The things most helpful were not so much the kind words, or knowing that someone has us in their thoughts and prayers; but the ones that helped me deal with the realities of dementia and take the best care of my parent and myself. – Kat
I often refer people to an article in the Los Angeles Times called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing.” Comfort in…..dump out. Simple concept. For person’s with a change in status, i.e., new diagnosis, referral to hospice, the phrase “I wish things were different,” is enough. – Marj
Not that long ago, I ran into someone who knew my mom when she was alive. It was at the grocery store. She said that I am doing a great job and that my dad is a lucky man because not many seniors have family members willing to step up like I have. It’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t get paid for what I do. My dad can be very difficult to get along with. But I promised my mom. More importantly, he is my dad. I am unable to look the other way. – Mimi
I feel like it has always validated my feelings when I hear “I have no idea how you are able to deal with ____.” It makes me uncomfortable, but it is also nice hearing that someone understands the volume and impact the situation could have on you. – Amanda
The best thing, I believe, anyone can say is, “It’s good to see you here” (now, at this time, this moment….) or “I’ve been thinking about you.” That’s nice to know.
Or “Tell me about this condition…” Wow! If more people or ANYONE did that, and really listened, that would be about THE MOST thoughtful thing one could say. – Melissa B
For the newly bereaved, I recommend, “I’m so sorry. YOU were the BEST caregiver your (whoever) could have ever wished for.” – Marj
When I lost my wife, hearing the words “She’s in a better place now” did not help. Keep it simple with the compassionate words, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Followed by, “I’m here for you if you need me.” Then just listen, and let the griever drive the conversation. – Bob Harrison
Words of wisdom
I think what makes the words so tough is that there are no words. Pain as such is an emotional experience and trying to encapsulate those feelings in words seems impossible. But the language of kindness speaks volumes! It’s the gestures and thoughtful acts during difficult times, even when small, that speak truth to a universe that is perhaps good after all. Shining a light, even in the darkest of days… – Ashley Look