Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sympathy Tips

I just read this article in the Wall Street Journal regarding what to do when someone you know loses a loved one. I highly recommend reading the entire article. It explains different reactions to grieving as well as some solutions.

I identify so much with this article because of the radically different reactions I received when my dad died and also when my uncle died. A lot of people just don't know what to do or say or how to act. Before my father's death, I admit- I didn't know what to do or say either which is why I think this article is so important. Many people don't know how to react because they have never been through the grieving process.

The most important thing to remember is that the person who has lost someone needs support. They may not have the energy or capacity for it now (or ever) but it is important for them to know that you are there for them. Probably the best tip in the entire article: "Promise to be there in the coming weeks and months. And keep your promise." I reached out to only a handful of the people who offered me support, but it was most comforting to know that people were simply there for me.

After my dad passed away, a family member promised to call me every week. I was so elated to know that someone that I loved cared enough to do this, to keep tabs on me and offer such constant support. I was looking forward to those calls so much. After a couple of weeks though, this family member stopped calling. In the back of my mind, I knew that her promise was unrealistic. She had big ideas and was also overwhelmed with emotion, so I guess I wasn't surprised when she stopped calling, but it really would have been great if we talked every week, at least for a while. As my healing went on, I imagine I would have started calling her instead of her calling me. I imagined a small support system and that system disappeared. Lesson: do not make promises you can't keep.

From the article:
  • REACH OUT. But don't let email or texting take the place of an in-person visit or phone call. Remember, much of what we find comforting—tone of voice, eye contact, touch—is nonverbal.
  • LISTEN. Follow the mourner's lead. Let the person talk about what is important to him.
  • SHARE A MEMORY. For someone who is grieving, hearing about things the loved one said and did, and what they meant to others, is comforting.
  • OFFER PRACTICAL HELP. Can you assist with funeral planning? Babysitting? Mowing the lawn? Most people don't ask for help because they don't want to seem needy.
  • ASK BEFORE BRINGING A LOT OF FOOD.* What do the mourners want or need? It doesn't have to be fancy—perhaps milk, eggs or orange juice?
  • GIVE SOMETHING THAT WILL LIVE ON. Consider skipping the flowers. Perhaps share a memento, or make a charitable donation to honor the deceased.

And a few additional tips of my own:
  • Don't ignore them. Confrontation is uncomfortable (in nearly all cases) but this is an uncomfortable situation for everyone and ignoring them is not the way to show that you care.
  • Don't pressure him/her to respond to your condolences (and offers*).
  • If you don't know what to say, a simple "I'm thinking of you" or "I'm sorry for your loss" will suffice.  Avoid "preachy, presumptuous and impersonal" comments at all costs.
  • Don't use religious phrases or ideas unless you know for sure that the person who is grieving shares those ideas.
  • Keep in mind that men grieve differently than women. Men like to "do" things (my grandfather spent a lot of time filling bullet shells when my dad died) and women like to cry and/or talk.
*A friend of mine swears that just doing things without asking is the way to go as mourners rarely admit that need or want help or they may not realize it. Asking first what someone needs requires a response though, so use your best judgment. Is this the type of person who would appreciate a casserole, their lawn mowed or a walk? If so, just do it.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

A Plea to Be Polite

What did we do before cell phones? 

We TALKED to each other when we were out to dinner. We gave our guests and dinner dates our full attention. We paid attention to the moment and sometimes we even embraced and enjoyed it. We weren't interrupted, except to order another beer or to entertain a brilliant idea. We didn't feel the need to alert the world to every stupid little thing that happened in our everyday life. We "networked" at appropriate times & places and in person. We engaged each other. On a personal, two-sided level.

Call me old fashioned, but this cell phone & portable internet thing has gotten out of hand. How did we become so addicted and attached to these little objects? We lived for centuries without them and now we can't even leave them in our pocket or purse for one hour during dinner. 

In my perfect-world mind, this is a growing problem. We aren't using our brains anymore, we rely on machines to think and to remember for us. We whip out our iPhones and Droids when we can't remember the name of that movie with so-and-so in it. Our brains are dying slowly and not just from using them less and less, the radiation from our cell phones is doing damage as well... but all that is another topic (and one I've been mulling for years- stay tuned).

This article from WiseGeek sums cell phone ettiquette up best- I've salvaged, modernized and added my own notes and rules to it below (in italics).
1. When a Private Conversation Isn't Possible. Intimate public settings such as restaurants, public restrooms, waiting rooms, check-out lines, hallways, buses, subways or anywhere a private conversation is not possible is a bad place for a cell phone conversation. To practice good cell phone etiquette, put the ringer on vibrate or silent mode and let the call roll over to voice mail. If it's an important call, step outside or to a secluded area to return the call. If that's not possible and you must take the call, keep your voice low and the conversation brief. Let the caller know you'll get back to them when you're able. When in doubt, mute!
2. Lights Out, Phone Off. Phones should be turned off in movie theaters, playhouses, observatories or any other public place that creates an atmosphere to transport the imagination of the audience. People pay good money to be entertained and a ringer breaks the illusion. Be aware of your surroundings. Once, a man answered his phone in the middle of a movie after letting it ring about 8 times. Not one person in that theater was pleased with that man. Don't be that man.
3. Modulate Your Voice (and the volume of your ringer). Cell phones have sensitive microphones that can pick up a very soft voice while blocking out ambient noise. Yelling into a cell phone is not necessary. When people are nearby, be considerate and keep your voice low, your tone unemotional and even, and your conversation private. Arguing or airing dirty laundry in public is very poor cell phone etiquette. And it's not necessary for everyone in the entire grocery store to know when someone's calling you. Again, be aware of your surroundings.
4. Observe the 10-foot Proximity Rule. Maintain a distance of at least 10-feet (3 meters) from the nearest person when talking on a cell phone. No matter how quietly you speak, if standing too close to others they are forced to overhear your personal business. I've not heard of this 10-foot rule before, but I like it.
5. Keep It Short. If you MUST talk in a public place (in emergencies or to tell your caller that you'll call them back later), keep public conversations brief and get back to the caller when you're not in a public place.
6. Love the One You're With. It's rude to take a cell phone call or text or surf on a date or during a social engagement with others. It's also inconsiderate to take a call in the middle of a conversation. If the caller were present he or she would likely wait to politely interrupt at a more appropriate time. Let the call roll to voice mail and return it later. This is one of my pet peeves. See the words above- it's RUDE! R-U-D-E. Personally, I feel ignored and disrespected when people I'm with are constantly on their phones either texting or surfing. The call or text may be important to you, but realize you're also important to the person in front of or next to you. If I wanted to go out to dinner by myself, I would have done so. Don't talk on your cell phone, play games or send text messages in front of someone who expects your attention.
7. Drive Now, Talk (, text & surf) Later. Multitasking isn't always a good thing. Some evidence shows that accidents are on the rise due to cell phone use. Pull over or wait until you get to your destination to have the conversation. Duh!

8. Use Common Sense. Turn off your phone before a job interview, presentation, or boardroom meeting. Leave it off at funerals, weddings, or anyplace a quiet atmosphere is mandated, such as a courthouse, library, museum, or place of worship. And don't use your phone when you're ordering at a counter or checking out at a retail/food establishment. They're sure to spit in your food or give you the stink eye
Of course, in all situations above, the exception is emergencies. I also don't mind if I've been warned by the person I'm about to meet up with that they're expecting a call, especially if it's an important one. Annoyance averted.

This is an excerpt from a great article from Road & Travel Magazine, it adds some logic to the argument:
Keep in mind, the more available you make yourself the more available everyone will expect you to be. People will actually be miffed if you are not instantly and constantly available rather than being pleased when you do call. Think: Do you really need to be - or want to be - "connected" 24/7/365? And ask: what's it doing for that tension across your upper back? If you can summon the discipline to be unavailable at certain times - and even for uncertain lengths of time - it's doubtful much will change, except your peace of mind.

First, think of your phone as a tool for emergencies. If it's important, they'll call back and that question they just asked you by text- they will be just fine without an answer for the next hour.

Second, think of your phone as a portable answering machine. It takes messages when you are not available. Now that's convenient.
 Your dinner date would be oh-so-happy.

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