Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PSA: NOT Saying Stupid Stuff

In high school I had 4 BFFs.  Yes, 4.  I'm so lucky :)

What was great is how, as a group, well all brought special talents to the group.  We used to joke that we were all one big body.

Carla was the heart--all compassion, and good thoughts, and care.  She was probably common sense too.

Bethy was the funny bone--always doing these zaney things--like pretending to fry like bacon or peeing on a pink bike--to make us laugh.

Jina was the legs--she was the one with ideas of what to do and how to do them (and how to convince--and sometimes deceive--our parents into letting us do stuff).

Corrin was whatever side of the brain is super carefree, laid back, and lacking in feelings of responsibility.  I guess she was the breath of air the rest of us needed when we were all hyper-stressed and worked up about something.

I was brain. The intellectual who made smart-Alec comments and could argue us out of any bad situation.  Or land us in hot water.  Whatever.

As a group, we had fun.

But one night, three of us got into a bad accident (weather was the cause).  Our parents got these "your daughter has been in an accident" phone calls and that was it.  For an hour they were left to wonder and worry and stew in their fears.  My parents always told me that was the WORST feeling they'd ever had.   Knowing something was wrong with their baby but not knowing what or how bad.  And not being able to get there fast enough.

When I became a mom I knew I would dread that phone call. What I didn't know was how hard it would be when my friend Carla got the phone call about her daughter.  She'd been in an accident.  There were no other details.

I called her frantic to know what I could do to help and comfort.  I quickly learned how many calls and texts Carla had received and how many of those--well intentioned for sure--were hurtful.  Sometimes, with the advent of the internet and social networking, I think we forget about what are the right, tactful questions to ask and what questions are hurtful, violate privacy and are really, none of our damn business.  

So today, let me share with you a Public Service Announcement Carla and I jokingly wrote.


When someone you know is involved in an accident, presume you are on a "need to know" basis.  If you need to know something, you will be told.  If not, don't ask.  You'll know when you need to know.  You might not ever know and that's because you don't need to know.  You do not have the right to know everything or anything.

Pretty simple but if that isn't clear enough, here are some guideline do's and don'ts.

What NOT to say to a parent whose child has been in an accident: 

What caused the accident?

This is like asking the parent to re-live the event that is rocking his/her world right now.  Consider this a "salt in the wound" question. And the truth is, who cares?  What matters is the accident happened.  It can't be changed so zip your lips to this question and move on.  If they want you to know, they'll tell you.

What is the prognosis?  

Is your kid gonna live?  Is she going to have permanent brain damage?  Remember questions that are easy to ask aren't easy to answer.  The parent might not have the answer or might not have wrapped his/her mind around this answer.  Bad prognoses take a long time to accept.  So don't ask.  If they want you to know, they will tell you.
This is going to cost a lot. 

A. Finances of others are none of your business 
B. Most parents would mortgage their underwear to save their kid.  
C.  We all know medical costs a lot.  Stating the obvious here just adds stress.  Adding stress is not helpful.  

Why haven't you returned my call/text/e-mail? 

These parents likely have a lot on their mind--the least of which is making sure you are totally up to speed on the situation.  When you need to know, they will let you know.  If they aren't responding, you don't need to know.  They'll get back to you when they are ready.  End of story.

I'm just so upset.

I understand why you might want to say this.  I was upset.  This baby girl (now a teenager) lived in the same house as me.  I'd changed a diaper or two.  I was upset.  But her momma--she was MORE upset and the absolute LAST thing Carla needed to do was comfort me.  If you are upset, share that with someone other than the parent.  Sideline your own feelings--temporarily--and just be there for your friends.

What you CAN say: 

Where is the key to your house/mailbox so I can clean/water your plants/pack up the rest of your kids and take them to my house so they will be well cared for while you are gone?

Every day living is going to be tough for the family right now.  Find a way to ease the day-to-day burden.

What hotel are you staying at so we can pay for a night? 

This is expensive.  If you can help out financially, do it.  Pay for a night at a hotel.  Send gas cards or gift certificates to restaurants.  Organize a fundraiser to pay the mortgage.  Pay the utility bill.  

Where can we send cards/flowers/non-latex balloons?

Comfort.  The family needs comfort.  What can you do to provide comfort and cheer?  Can you send a thoughtful card?  Can you go sit with them at the hospital?  Can you sit in the hospital with their child so they can sleep for a couple of hours?

What I think is when there is an emergency, we need to focus more on WHAT we can do to help than what information we can acquire by asking stupid stuff.

Thanks, Shell!

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