But I think some people just have the knack.
And the thing about not having the knack for that sort of thing is that it makes no sense, since I suffered my first bereavement at the age of 13. I, of all people, should know how to act and what to say in the presence of grief.
A CretinBut no. Invariably, I stick my foot in my mouth and then give an inward cringe when I realize what a cretin I’ve been. Which tends to reinforce in my mind the idea that I should never. Ever. Visit anyone bereaved. I’m just bad at it.
Today, all that changed forever. Not because I suddenly got really good at paying condolence calls but because I read an article that outlined a logical way to stay on track and avoid offending people. The premise of the article was concise and once the concept of dealing with grief was outlined, it was clear that it would also be an easy method to remember.
Now this is good, because we not only need this method for ourselves, but for our children and for instance, the kids that are mentored in the programs run by Kars for Kids, the nonprofit organization in which I serve as communications writer. We don’t learn this stuff in school. We need a quick and dirty method for getting down the niceties of this and more important, for transmitting it to others.
Ring TheoryJudy Levy of Ricochet writes up an article from the LA Times, How Not to Say the Wrong Thing, by clinical psychologist Susan Silk and arbitrator/mediator Barry Goldman. The article speaks about addressing emotions related to grief or distress according to the “Ring Theory of kvetching.” Basically, it all boils down to this: “Comfort in, dump out.”
Silk and Goldman illustrate the klutziness of some people in dealing with difficulties to show how the theory works. They offer the example of Susan who is in the hospital after having surgery for breast cancer. Susan lets it be known she doesn’t want visitors, but her colleague insists on visiting her, telling Susan, “This isn’t just about you.”
Oh SMH!* That’s the kind of stupid thing I’m afraid I’ll say to a friend in distress. I mean, not just about you?? Really?
From the article:
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
The article then goes on to describe Katie, who is recovering from a brain aneurysm. Her friend comes to visit and then quickly leaves the room, telling Katie’s husband Pat, who is waiting in the hall:
"I wasn't prepared for this. I don't know if I can handle it."
Really??? SHE can’t handle this? What about Pat, Katie’s HUSBAND? He has an easier time dealing with the sight of his wife in such a frighteningly dangerous state of ill health?
So back to the theory, comfort in, dump out: Picture a ring. In the center is the person in the most pain, for instance, Susan or Katie. Then draw a slightly larger circle around the center and in there put the name of the person closest to the one suffering the trauma, for instance, Pat, Katie’s husband. In each subsequently larger circle, you can put the names of people in descending importance or relationship to the sufferer.
Here’s how it goes, you can extend comfort from your circle inward, for instance from you to Susan. But you have to dump out, meaning you can’t vent inward to Susan. You have to vent to someone in the circle that’s larger than your own.
Can I Help?So you could say to Susan or Katie, “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. How can I help? Can I bring you a pot of soup?”
That is comfort in, extending comfort toward the center of the circle.
But let’s say what really comes to mind is how awful Susan looks and you’re her close friend, you’re SHOCKED. You would never say that to Susan or to her husband, because they are in rings that are relatively smaller than yours, they are IN and you are OUT.
Instead you can tell someone in a larger ring, such as a colleague, for instance, “Wow, Susan looks really awful. It freaks me out to see her like that.”
Dumping OutThat is dumping out, toward the outer ring.
The beauty of this is you can say whatever you need or want to say, as long as you say it to someone in a larger ring than yours!
Now isn’t that simple? You can even map it out before you go. Print out this handy-dandy diagram I made for you, based on the one that appeared in Ricochet and in the LA Times, and stick it to your fridge with a magnet.
|(photo credit: Varda Epstein)|
*Smacking my head.