I hear it again and again from friends, kind strangers and even from family sometimes. “At least you know that she is dying, so you have that time with her,” or, “you're lucky you get this time with her.” I have probably even said these phrases myself over the years to friends who were losing loved ones. But until you go through something like this, you really just don't understand.
So, let's talk about this for a minute. I totally get that by saying these things, you are trying to be helpful. I'm not trying to bash you for this, but if you stop and think about your words for a minute, you will come to realize the following:
1. It's actually pretty rude.
Look, I get you think that this is a nice thing to say. But if you really thought about it, you would realize how rude it is to tell me “at least…” anything about the fact that my mom is dying.
Seriously, just don't. I don't need you to tell me at least I am getting all of this “extra” time with her because I know she is dying. Do you realize that this supposedly “extra” time is being spent with her in pain, and I am literally watching my parent die for weeks or months?
This “extra” time is actually spent at her bedside and not doing the things that her and I would actually like to do together. And, this is not actually extra time. In fact, I'm losing time. So please don't try and tell me I'm lucky.
2. You are saying the way my mom is dying is not as bad as the way you lost yours.
First off, I'm sorry you lost your [insert family member/friend here]. It is a horrible, horrible thing to lose someone quickly and without notice. I have been through it as a teenager and it broke my heart for years after. But please don't tell me that my mom's way of dying is better than your loss was. Don't tell me that I'm lucky that I get time with my mom when you didn't get that time. It's not helpful. It doesn't make me feel better. Of course I am thankful my mom hasn't died yet, but she will, and trying to tell me that this is better than losing her in an instant is not going to make me feel better.
3. Don't compare my loss to yours.
Again, comparing losses never helps anyone. Why? Because we all have different relationships. We all react to pain in our own way. We all grieve in our own way. Don't for one second think that your loss is worse than mine or vice versa. All loss hurts. So don't tell me you are hurting worse and I won't tell you I am either.
4. You're only making yourself feel better.
Never will these statements make me feel better. But maybe by saying something, you're trying to be more comfortable. Just stop. You are not supposed to be the one in need of consoling, I am. I shouldn't have to swallow these statements just because I don't want to hurt your feelings by being honest and say that it's not helpful. Please don't give me even more to feel bad.
5. It's not helpful.
If you want to actually be helpful, just be there. Don't justify anything. Don't tell me it will all be OK in the end. Because life right now sucks pretty damn bad, and it's about to get a lot worse. Just be a friend. Help with things that I can't do because I'm too sad to function sometimes.
Offer to go have a meal with me and get my mind off of things. Give me a hug when you see me. Send me a postcard saying you're thinking of me. And most of all, actually be there when I'm crying at 2 am and can barely think. Be there when my mom passes, and I can't function well enough to make my son breakfast. Be there when all the light goes out with a flashlight, ready to help me see again.
Next time you talk to your friend who is going through losing someone due to a terminal illness, I hope you remember that these phrases may hurt more than help. Instead, be there when they need you. It's a tough road to go down, and they shouldn't have to keep your feelings in mind when they are barely holding themselves together.