Blame God! Or be quiet.

I heard it when I was diagnosed with cancer and in other less-potentially-lethal situations. I hear it said to and about other people in precarious financial positions, in unenviable health crises, in situations with their kids or their siblings or their parents.

“It’s God’s will.”

Is it supposed to relieve the afflicted of guilt? Comfort them in knowing it’s divinely inspired random chance? 

I’m at a bit of a loss as to where the comfort is in this statement.

In reality, it gives the person offering it something to say (because we feel obligated to say something) and lets them be comfortable in their position of Not It.

God didn’t pick me for this horrible thing to happen. Whew! Too bad for you, but y’know, someone’s gotta get picked!

(I don’t think someone’s gotta get picked.)

Divine random chance also relieves people of personal responsibility. I don’t have to do anything, or it doesn’t matter what I do, because it’s God’s will

This doesn’t seem to apply to smokers or people who leave their doors unlocked or women who get drunk. (To them, it’s “What did you expect?”) It’s only God’s will if it happened as a result of something that I don’t judge.

Can we try something else instead?

Besides “don’t judge” which is generally good advice that’s hard to follow (and that, ironically, I’ve been judged for suggesting), just sit.

Be a presence.

Most people who are living through situations that you have to just move through—no shortcuts, no easy button—want or need safe space to be sad or angry or frustrated or overwhelmed or confused or any of the other emotions that come with life-changing events.

It’s uncomfortable to be with someone who is hurting and not be able to help or to fix it.

I guarantee your discomfort is less than theirs. Suck it up and sit with it.

If you can do more than that, great! “More than that” varies significantly by person and circumstance.

When I was going through chemo, “more than that” included:

  • care packages
  • a babysitter (for me) on a chemo weekend when my husband was going to be out of town
  • game nights
  • normal conversations
  • company

But that’s just for me and how life was at that time. Some people need meals. Or babysitters for their kids. Or help with house chores. Or rides to and from appointments. 

A friend recently spent a lot of time visiting a family member in the hospital surrounding a traumatic medical event. She said they spent a lot of time talking about making art, because that’s the head space the family member was in. Great! Go with it.  

For everyone I know who has gone through anything long and difficult, there are always dips of loneliness. Company is helpful—sometimes just being in the same space, even if you’re not interacting.

For all of this, if you’re not sure, ask. Or offer choices:

  • I’d like to send you something to help pass the time. Would you prefer an audiobook or a coloring book and some pencils?
  • You have so much going on. Would it be more helpful for me to vacuum or to clean the bathroom?
  • I can take your kids one day this weekend. Would Saturday or Sunday be better?
  • I heard you were wanting some company. Would you like me to come by? We could talk, play cards, or just watch TV together.

Circling back to the original point: even if you don’t do any of those things, be a little thoughtful with your words and check in to make sure they’re to help the other person feel better, not yourself.

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