This week, I witnessed several friends go through some sort of crisis or face unpleasant situations. In a couple of cases, the situations were awkward and delicate, and I had to decide whether speaking out and offering my support was going to help or make things more uncomfortable for that person.
It made me think back to my days in the trenches of infertility. From start to finish, from diagnosis to holding my baby in my arms, I spent 1236 days as a childless infertile. Over three years, not counting the months we tried to conceive on our own, before our diagnosis. 1236 lonely, heart-wrenching days of carrying around this shameful disease. 1236 days of pain, both physical and mental. It was not easy. It still isn't. Regardless, I spoke out from the very beginning about it, which resulted in many friends and family members stepping forward and offering their support. Sometimes, their words weren't helpful. At all. In fact, sometimes their words were downright inconsiderate. But do you know what I remember more than the ignorant remarks?
I remember the silence.
Image: Sean MacEntee via Flickr
I remember all of the people who never stepped up to the plate. I remember every friend and family member whose lips remained glued shut over those 1236 days, saying nothing. Maybe they were afraid to speak up. Maybe they didn't know what to say. Maybe they thought that they were going to make things more uncomfortable for me. They certainly did with their silence.
There's a common saying, "forgive but don't forget." This is what I've done in the months since I've had my daughter in my arms. I've forgiven those who never spoke up. I've made peace with their choices, but I certainly don't forget who they are or how their silence made me feel. That deafening silence also taught me a valuable lesson, one that I was reminded of this week. Speaking out wasn't going to make the other person, the person going through the motions of whatever hardship they were experiencing, feel uncomfortable. No. It was going to make me feel uncomfortable.
Keep it generic. Offer support, but not unsolicited advice. Don't offer pity; offer empathy. It's okay to say, "This sucks." These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I typed my words into messages to more than one friend this week. These are the words that I always wanted to hear. These are the words that comforted me during the most difficult of those 1236 days. Most importantly, they were words from someone who just wanted me to know that he or she cared.
They were much easier to hear than the sounds of silence.
Katie writes at From IF to When.
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