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The “Ring Theory” of Kvetching (Or “How Not To Say The Wrong Thing In A Crisis”)

I read an interesting article last week in the Los Angeles Times about how to avoid making the mistake of saying the wrong thing to someone in the midst of a medical, legal, financial, etc. crisis.    Read on….

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.  (read rest of article HERE)

(Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times)


It can be summed quite simply and eloquently as “Comfort in. Dump out.”


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stella April 17, 2013, 3:46 am

    (In before comments taking this way to literally and complaining.)

    Oh that’s excellent, in a simplified way obvs. I personally *like to think* I’m good at saying comforting but hopefully-not-empty things during a crisis, but during smaller moments of upsetness I tend flail, because I don’t understand why the other person is upset. For example, a friend of mine (who generally gets emotionally upset about negative things very easily) was in a car accident that was more of a fender-bender and no one was hurt. She was very shaken though and kept going on about it, and I found it very difficult to say anything comforting because I just kep feeling like she was working herself up to a proper state of upset by behaving like that. I tend to be calm in emergencies and rarely get upset afterwards. (I totaled my car before Christmas. No one was injured, insurance covers, even standing there waiting for the police to arrive there was no point in panicking. What’s done is done.) So when someone around me gets hysterical about something I feel is a relative non-issue, sometimes I flounder.

    I understand people experience stressful situations differently, which is why I used the word “relative” there, so I do make an effort to say something comforting. But if the person keeps fretting over it, and you’ve exhausted the usual venues of “do you need something/luckily no one was hurt/ I’m sorry that happened to you/I’m glad you’re okay” what do you do?

    • Eileen June 15, 2015, 10:45 am

      Judging from this comment I suspect you are not as good as saying the right thing as you may think. I thought I was great at saying the right thing until my sister who has cancer and was given some meds went off one night on the things she hates hearing most. I had said at least 50% and thought they were all very upbeat inspirational, I’m here for you things. If you can’t relate to someone on a small level it would make no sense that you can relate on a larger level because you are internally deciding what is worth someone being upset about and what they shouldn’t be upset about.

  • Ceallach April 17, 2013, 4:17 am

    Love it!

  • --Lia April 17, 2013, 5:48 am

    Sounds to me like license to gossip far and wide.

  • The Elf April 17, 2013, 7:56 am

    Wow, that’s awesome! I’m going to have to remember that.

    But this only applies to the subject at hand (Katie’s aneurysm). A tiny amount of kvetching on an unrelated topic, when asked by a person in a more inner ring, is fine. Just don’t make it sound like a one-up or anything like that. Otherwise you end up with a shallower relationship when you can’t be “real” with a person. For relationships that are already somewhat shallow – co-workers, neighbors, etc – this is fine. No kvetching. For closer relationships, it can be a problem. For instance:

    Pat: “How are you?”
    Me: “Not so bad.”
    Pat: “How’s the job hunt going?”
    Me: “Ugh. Terrible! No one’s hiring ever since the sequester hit. So, Pat, can I help you and Katie out somehow? I’ve got a little time on my hands, maybe I can run some errands for you?”

  • AMC April 17, 2013, 7:57 am

    OMG, I love this concept! I might have to tape it to my fridge too!

  • Andi April 17, 2013, 8:15 am

    I’m putting that on my fridge! Sometimes we say stupid things in time of crises on accident – before thinking. This will definetly help me slow down and think.

  • Rap April 17, 2013, 8:30 am

    You know, this is about the fifth article in as many days about how no matter how you offer comfort, you’re completely and absolutely wrong and making it worse if you do x, y, or z and how no matter what you say, if its not perfect, you’re compounding the pain by opening your mouth.

    If you say “I know how you feel” – no matter if indeed you’ve lost a child or been diagnosed with cancer, you absolutely do NOT know how someone else feels and are making it worse.

    If you offer religious comfort, thats a no no too.

    If you admit you can’t imagine their pain, nope, you’re trivilizing it and really saying “You’re too different from me to relate to” (I seriously saw someone say this in an article on CNN)

    I’m sorry, but not everyone knows and says the exactly perfect thing to someone grieving or going through a hard time. Yes, the person “at the center of the ring” is likely the person in the most pain… but not necessarily the ONLY person in pain and as a society, more and more, it seems like we have impossible expectations for other people. Speaking as someone who is ham handed and awkward in pained situations, while I am not expecting a parade in response to my sympathy, if I *am* offering my sympathy, it’d be nice to have it accepted in the spirit it was given and not get a lecture on how since I am not in exactly the same situation, I’ll never really understand and am just making it worse.

    I’ll be the first to admit, this article is probably hitting me the wrong way.

    • admin April 17, 2013, 10:29 am

      One of the weaknesses of this theory is that it presumes that only the “victim” in the center is the only one grieving. There are often secondary and tertiary grievers/mourners/victims who inhabit a ring beyond the center.

  • INeedANap April 17, 2013, 8:44 am

    I love this — in theory. I’m an engineer and am predisposed to liking neat, simple diagrams, and the premise makes a lot of sense. However, this is entirely based on the assumption that you can correctly label the people in the rings. I have made that mistake, putting myself too close or too far, especially with folks who value certain friendships over certain family members.

  • Lo April 17, 2013, 9:31 am

    I think this is brilliant!

    It’s so easy to say the wrong thing out of naivete. I’m a serial offender in this because my first instinct when I hear a story about some bad thing that happened is to relate my own story of some bad thing that happened to me. (Not to one-up the person, but to try and find some common ground for conversation.) Over the years etiquette has taught me what common sense apparently could not. But it’s so easy to say the wrong thing and to forget who you’re talking to. I’m going to keep this in mind the next time a friend or family member is dealing with a crisis.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith April 17, 2013, 9:41 am

    Simple. Elegant and true.

  • Anonymous April 17, 2013, 9:50 am

    This is a good theory, but I think that even within the “Kvetching Order,” or “Comfort In, Dump Out,” there should be limits. For example, in the winter of 2009, my mom got breast cancer. She’s now in her fourth year of remission, which is awesome, but when she had it, and was going through treatments, she blamed a lot of her problems on me. In my opinion, this isn’t okay, even if she was technically following the rules of the circle chart.

  • Anonymous April 17, 2013, 10:10 am

    This hits me hard. I am a breast cancer survivor, and I was both disheartened (by relatives) and uplifted (by friends and acquaintances) by responses to my illness and surgery. This chart speaks directly to what should have happened to me, but didn’t.

    My husband, although sympathetic at first, became irritated and short with me within a few weeks, before I even had surgery to remove the tumor. His most common comment was to irritably say, “You’ll be fine!!!!” or “You’re overreacting!!” Neither comment, especially when said in an irritable tone, is helpful. Mind you, these comments weren’t made years after surgery, but within weeks or months, when I was still feeling quite raw emotionally and occasionally cried or was sad, and was still going through treatment. I did not need this, and his reactions (especially compared to the reactions of friends, coworkers, and even acquaintances), in my opinion, revealed to me his own selfishness, lack of empathy, and extreme self-involvement. In other words, it was all about how it was going to affect HIM.

    In later discussions with other survivors and the kind nurses and practitioners I talked to, I found out that high percentages of men deserted their ill wives during their illness, but the reverse was not true.

    In contrast, my coworkers, male and female alike, were completely supportive, soothing, and very attuned to how I was feeling each day. (I worked throughout my radiation treatments, and was back at work 10 days after surgery.)

    Yes, I’m still married, but I no longer depend on my husband for much of anything. I have made sure to keep my friends close, and make additional friends, to fill the gap that he seemingly cannot fill.

  • Airelenaren April 17, 2013, 10:27 am

    i don’t know… it looks good on paper, but in my experience, it often doesn’t work that way.
    There are so many factors, like what if the Pat person has no other close friends or family except for the Katie person? What if anybody in the “still close enough to be concerned”, but not center circles doesn’t know or trust someone from a bigger circle to talk to about their feelings? What if the Katie person’s big problem directly effects someone from a bigger circle, and that person would want to find a solution? Are they supposed to play the “tell a person in the next circle to tell someone in their next circle to tell Katie that…” game? And what if the center people don’t want the message to spread, if it’s a secret only shared between, say, three people from three different circles? Are the second and third circle people supposed to seek therapy to get to talk about their worries, just to spare the people in the center circle(s) from having to listen to them?

  • Kimstu April 17, 2013, 10:29 am

    A very nice concept! Nitpick: the center label in the diagram should probably say “the grief-stricken or afflicted”.

    “Aggrieved” doesn’t actually mean “grieving, bereaved” but rather “having a grievance, offended, resentful, bearing a grudge”. (Not that a bereaved person can’t also be aggrieved, of course, but I don’t think that’s what the illustrator meant.)

  • Hannah2 April 17, 2013, 10:46 am

    There are lots of weaknesses in this theory, and I’m with Admin on that, and follow close behind Rap in his/her thoughts as well.

    For example, I agree the person in the center can voice any opinion, but why would I say “life is so unfair” or “why me” only to a person in the larger circle? I think you are allowed to say that to a person in a smaller ring, not a larger ring if you want to “dump out”?

    And who is Susan?

  • Hannah2 April 17, 2013, 10:48 am

    Ok, here’s the amendment to what I just wrote. Yes, you can only say that to a person in a larger ring—YES, that’s makes sense. But I still don’t understand how this helps us to know what’s the right thing to say to a person who is grieving or hurt?

  • Boohaha April 17, 2013, 10:48 am


    • admin April 17, 2013, 10:51 am

      Here’s an example of the mysterious lower case t showing up as the only “comment” submitted. I mentioned this a few weeks ago in an admin post. I have no idea what Boohaha meant to say as this is how I received it. I delete these “comments”.

      • Doug Kemp September 16, 2015, 4:34 am

        Did someone say tea? would love a cup thanks. 🙂

        In respect to this article admin. I’m struggling to find a psychological grounding for the “theory”.

        If you Google “kvetching” the reply is for kvetch a North American colloquialism “Jane’s kvetching about her crummy existence” a word I have never herd till today, which is kind of apt. description on Google akin to “moaning” I would guess.

        The “theory” has a distinct lack of psychological grounding or seeming support in that, in most cases people dealing with issues need to form mechanisms to confront and deal with the issues and not isolate themselves from conversations.

        This is more of an avoidance tactic than a self help or psychological aid.

        The theory of venting away from the drama I guess to dissipate onto less connected circles may work for man in the middle but as other commentators have mentioned, some of the closest people are hit hardest by the flack struggle to separate themselves from the drama, so to speak. (Specifically in the case of a spouse)

        LA Times, mentions Susan Silk (the author) is a clinical psychologist & a Barry Goldman – author of “The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators.” Not much luck trying to find more info on this article other than the repeatedly reported LA times.

  • Ashley April 17, 2013, 11:06 am

    @Stella- Sometimes the best way to comfort another is to not say anything at all. Sometimes people just want to know vent and know that they’ve been heard.

  • Snowy April 17, 2013, 11:55 am

    Could you maybe leave them, so people will know their posts didn’t go through instead of thinking they weren’t “up to snuff?” (Unless it’ll cause a lot of t-spam or confusion.)

  • JWH April 17, 2013, 12:24 pm

    When you’re talking about the dumping and comforting, relationships at the center of the circle can be …. complex. Some of the journalism about Iraq vets recovering from polytrauma is just heartbreaking. Even when you leave aside some of the PTSD-induced violent episodes, the injuries can put a lot of strain on the relationships between the severely injured veteran and the people closest to him.

  • --Lia April 17, 2013, 1:03 pm

    The person hospitalized with cancer dumps out on his/her close family. The close family dumps out on a few friends. Those few friends dump out to their co-workers, but in order to do so, they have to spill a hundred little details until you get “Do you know so-on-so, the one with that yappy little dog? Well, I hear she’s in intensive care with CANCER! She looks a fright, I swear her skin is practically yellow, and her hair! I couldn’t believe it. It’s so sad. I was crying when I heard, and I’m not really over it, I mean, neither is she. She’s feeling so sorry for herself. I wonder if she’ll ever work again. And with those bills to pay …”

    It sounds so good in theory, but I still prefer the general advice to be mindful of what you say to everyone. No matter how well you know someone, you still have to keep in mind what they need to know and why. For example, the article also says not to give advice. That’s a good rule– Except for the times when advice is exactly what’s needed. Someone from several rings out might suggest a good nursing agency or even the recipe for chicken soup which was the only thing her cousin could eat when she was fresh out of surgery. As long as you back off quickly when your words aren’t being well received, it’s sometimes okay to make a suggestion.

    Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but like Anonymous, I’ve been the dumping ground too often for my mother. She dumps on me without a lot of thought as to what she’s saying. There’s no comfort I can give her. Though I’m in an outer ring, dumping on me only serves, I believe, to let her think she’s closer to the center. I can’t shut her up. I end up knowing more than I should or want to, and the only thing I can do with gossip like that (though she’d deny it was gossip) is to swallow it and let it go no further.

  • E April 17, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Anonymous, your story is heartbreaking and I’m sorry that you had to learn that about your husband at such a difficult time. I actually have heard of women leaving their husbands during health crises, I think there may have been an article about it a couple of years back. The reasons were just as you described – the illness brought some ugly truths to the surface that were pre-existing in the relationship. There were also accounts of men who were unable/unwilling to take care of their wives, and the women found it more helpful and therapeutic to simply focus on taking care of themselves.

    You should know that you deserve better, and that you win no ‘points’ (religious, social) by staying in a bad relationship.

  • whatever April 17, 2013, 3:13 pm

    @Rap: Miss Manners says that in times like this, if you don’t know what to say, study and stick with the traditional phrases, like, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” or “Condolences on your loss,” even if they feel “too formal” for your relationship with the person.
    @admin: It seems to me that the strength of this ring theory is that it does acknowledge that there *are* secondary and tertiary grievers; those are what the more inner circles are. The closer you are to the patient/loss, the more grief you’re feeling.

  • whatever April 17, 2013, 3:17 pm

    @Comment 10: I think “dumping” means “explaining how your life sucks right now,” not “blaming people for things that aren’t their fault.”

  • Joni April 17, 2013, 3:34 pm

    Rap, I’ve often felt the same way reading articles like this. I have found that a simple “I am sorry to hear that/sorry for your loss” is the only way to guarantee I won’t stick my foot in my mouth. I either make a completely neutral, impersonal comment or I keep my mouth shut altogether. It’s the only way to guarantee that my clumsy attempts at offering empathy or comfort won’t someday be lambasted on this blog.

  • Library Dragon April 17, 2013, 4:08 pm

    I understand the theory. The basic rule is: It’s not about me, but the person in pain. I don’t need to share the details of my similar trauma with someone who is not within immediate rings. I can perhaps share that with someone closer so that when the time is right and the person at the center knows there is someone else who has a bit of understanding.

    Also, I’m not to dump on the inner ring folks. They may be offering comfort in a way that is just right, just because it’s not my way doesn’t make it wrong. A close friend had breast cancer, mastectomy, and reconstruction using her stomach muscles. She joked that it was her way of getting out of doing sit-ups for the rest of her life. When she had a lung removed I joked that some people will do anything to get out of aerobics. Someone in a ring much removed was offended. It was not my role to comfort the outer ring folks, but my friend. Friend now repeats it right after sit-up line.

  • Aliciaspinnet April 17, 2013, 4:43 pm

    Just over a year ago my mother in law sadly died from breast cancer. She was a lovely woman and only in her early 50s which made the whole thing absolutely devastating for her two children. On the day of her funeral I saw several of her friends come up to my sister in law looking for her to comfort them. She handled it with great dignity but I was shocked – surely it should have been the other way around. I was very upset by it too but I would never have expected my partner to comfort me – it was my job to look after him.

  • Goodness April 17, 2013, 5:21 pm

    How about “I never know what to say to someone in your position, but please know that my heart hurts for you.”

  • Reboot April 17, 2013, 5:53 pm

    @Hannah2: The article posted here is part of a longer article I’ve seen elsewhere. “Susan” was mentioned as a woman who was undergoing a fairly major surgery; her colleague wanted to visit her, and upon being told that she really wasn’t feeling up for visitors said “this [the illness] isn’t just about you”.

    Regarding the ring theory itself, it’s a decent one, but like pretty much all similar theories it needs a dose of contextual adjustment depending on the situation.

  • Pep April 17, 2013, 6:16 pm

    I think at a certain point the dumping out needs to go *around* the same level of the circle and not further out. Like others said, letting it continue to go outwards is a ripe opportunity for gossip or rumors to occur even when unintended. So maybe at the level of “true friends,” if a friend is feeling stressed and wants to vent, they can do so to another on the same level – who knows about the situation, but I don’t think they should “dump out” to a colleague and let info spread further unless they know without a doubt the grieving person would have no issue with info being spread to that level.

  • Pep April 17, 2013, 6:19 pm

    And if you think about it, you’ll get more support in return from those on the same “level” as you than you would from those a level above you once you start reaching those outer, outer, outer rings. Your fellow true friends who really know and care about the victim like you do are going to understand the feelings you need to “dump out” much more than your colleague might.

  • Kay L April 17, 2013, 6:23 pm

    While the person who is ill is going through a tremendous hardship, so is their spouse and other loves ones. Being ill does not relieve you of your obligation to be there for your spouse any more than it relieves your spouse of the duty of being there. The duties change but the burden is best borne together.

    It is at times of hardship when graciousness is most powerful. It is times when someone has nothing to left to give and yet they do not give in, that they actually show the most strength.

    There is no question that people break down and act irrationally, particularly around loved ones. But, it should always be the exception, not the rule.

    Why have not have comfort flow in both directions whenever needed.

    I can’t see even a terminally ill person feeling good about being exempted from showing comfort and compassion because of their illness.

  • Erin April 17, 2013, 7:48 pm

    I have a seriously/chronically ill baby. I work very hard not to “dump” on other people about it. My husband and I talk about it since he’s dealing with it, too, but I don’t take it out on other people, complain about the difficulties, etc. But at the same time, I am the one living with it every day, the one who lives with the guilt of giving it to him (it’s genetic), and the one in the middle of it (along with my husband.) That means that I don’t appreciate people (like my MIL) who don’t even live in the same state with us, have never done any treatment, given any medication, or gone to any doctors appointment or hospital stay, who complain to me about how hard all of this is on them and don’t I feel bad for how bad they feel.

    I think that’s the point that the article is trying to get across. Not that it’s okay for the person in the center or inner circles to take it out on people in outer circles, but for the people on outer circles not to complain to the people actually living with it first-hand about how hard it is on that outer person. As someone who is in an inner circle, I really just don’t want to hear it.

  • gen xer April 17, 2013, 8:48 pm

    Since when did coping with grief, loss, trauma etc need a formulaic diagram in order to establish how one should behave and what their position is in the pecking order?

    I get that it is an effort to prevent the dreaded wrong thing from being said….but I see this as having the effect of making people really stilted and stiff when it comes to trying to help someone cope with difficult circumstances. Who wants to be forever overthinking and second guessing whether or not you’re saying the right thing?

    Let things come naturally and please – accept things in the spirit in which it was intended – people are trying to help and offer comfort in the best way they know how.

  • Kate April 18, 2013, 1:29 am

    What I like about this theory is that it acknowledges that the affected people sometimes just need to say “why me? It’s not fair. This sucks”.
    When I was at my worst with depression, I found it very hard to talk to some friends and family because I felt like they expected me to completely avoid talking about it, or do the ‘noble suffering’ thing – “Oh, thank you for asking, but I’ll be fine”. What I actually wanted to say sometimes was “this is horrible, you have no idea how horrible, and it’s not fair and why is it happening to me?”.

  • delislice April 18, 2013, 5:54 am

    I read the original story that postulated the ring theory, and my take was something like this:

    People who are not in the inner rings, but who try to put themselves there, can end up tiring out the inner-ring dwellers — i.e., the patient, the patient’s spouse — in a number of ways.

    Those ways can include saying thoughtless things about the patient’s condition, marriage, or private life to friends and coworkers;
    visiting too often/staying too long;
    Being uncomfortable during a visit with silence;
    Striving to fill that silence and as a result saying thoughtless or hurtful things, like:
    –“My relative had this and got right over it/suffered tremendously/died”
    –Minimizing the patient’s pain
    –Providing medical advice
    –Providing spiritual advice

    So what does that leave to talk about? Since a hospital visit shouldn’t last more than a few minutes, chat mildly about the weather, your day, and express a sincere wish that things will go better for the patient.

    When you are sick, especially with a potentially terminal illness, sometimes you simply might not have it in you to accept things in the spirit in which they are said. Sometimes the simple act of having someone in the room with you can wear you out when you are heavily medicated and poorly rested.

    I make a lot of hospital visits in the course of my job. I usually keep them to 5 to 10 minutes. I chat lightly about how things are going, express sympathy, listen if the patient or spouse wants to talk about the medical situation, and leave.

    I agree that the idea behind the ring theory of kvetching is that one should be thoughtful and honest about whether they are in the immediate inner circle … and take care not to COMPLAIN to the patient, patient’s spouse, patient’s children/siblings/parents about oneself.

    When my husband was in hospital for three weeks with pancreatitis when our children were much younger (the youngest not yet in school), I would have cheerfully strangled anyone who had told me how hard my husband’s illness was on THEM.

    It seems to me that people who kvetch to the inner circle are unconsciously making themselves the center. It’s not always one’s turn to be in the center.

  • Serena April 18, 2013, 7:38 am

    I’ve always just said, “I wish I knew what to say or do that would make you feel better.”

  • Goldie April 18, 2013, 8:31 am

    To E and Anonymous – I agree with E. Time to re-evaluate this marriage and, if you have reasons to believe he’ll act like that again if you’re sick again, then it’s time to end things. Watching my elderly parents, I can say that growing old is a scary and painful process, and I’d be wary of growing old together with a partner who has a history of letting me down in the past.

    Lia – I didn’t read the article as saying you *have* to dump out. To me, its message was, if you feel you absolutely have to dump, then at least dump out rather than in. I’ve seen this with my family and relatives, when outer-circle people come to the inner-circle people, or worse, to the sick person himself/herself, looking to be comforted by them. It’s incredibly frustrating and emotionally draining. This, in my opinion, is what the author was warning us about.

  • Ergala April 18, 2013, 12:32 pm

    You also have to remember the people who try to enter the ring period. When my husband’s grandfather was very very ill around Christmas time I confided in a friend about it. She had never met the man and wouldn’t know him if he bumped into her in a broom closet. She then proceeded to go onto Facebook and post how sad she was that someone was ill and she was so so depressed now. People started comforting HER….and some even cracked some pretty bad jokes about going to a better place and yeti (yeah don’t even get me started). I told her that was in absolutely bad taste. My husband wanted to go over and pound on her door and scream at her. He and his grandfather were extremely close, and I loved him as if he was my own grandfather. When he died we didn’t tell her for about a week. He died a few days before Christmas. When we did tell her she demanded to know why we took so long to share that with her. We told her that we didn’t want to see it all over Facebook and that when we had told her he was ill she had made it all about her. That didn’t go over so well.

    Some people just have to make it all about them. I’ve seen people become very very distraught over someone they knew 15 years ago in HS (and they didn’t even talk to each other!) becoming ill. They started crying, mourning, saying how great that person was….yet they didn’t even know their last name and didn’t recognize a current picture. Drama all around.

  • MichelleP April 18, 2013, 1:23 pm

    Agree with the article in theory. In life, just say I’m sorry for your loss and ask what can you do.

    Anonymous, life is too short to spend it with a partner that doesn’t put you first. I’m not suggesting that you should end your marriage, but as someone who spent too long with the wrong man, you deserve someone who will do their best by you. No one can be absolutely wonderful all the time, but if that behavior is frequently shown, please reevaluate your marriage.

    Erin, my heart goes out to you and your child. It’s easier said than done, but please let go of your guilt (or try to). You didn’t “give it to your child”. It’s simply not your fault, since your child’s condition wasn’t your deliberate doing. As a mother of a child with learning disabilities similar to mine, I understand how you’re feeling. As for your MIL and anyone else complaining, just ignore it and focus on yourself and your child.

  • Raven April 18, 2013, 4:50 pm

    It’s hard to deal with illness, injury, death…these are uncomfortable, emotional issues. We humans are not always good at dealing with discomfort.

    I have a chronic, incurable illness. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s very life-altering. I’ve had all kinds of stupid things said to me over the years, and one thing I’ve come to realize is that you don’t HAVE to say very much at all. I think the inappropriate/hurtful comments begin when people feel they need to fill the space with a bunch of words – this is them focusing on their own discomfort, not on the sufferer.

    As a sufferer, it both is and is not all about me. The pain belongs to me, and when people say “I know how you feel!” I want to punch them in the throat because no, you don’t. When people say, “I heard _____ cures that,” I smile and deal appropriately, ranging from “Actually that isn’t true,” to an explanation about why. It depends on the person.

    What really upsets me though is when I have to hear from family members or friends how hard MY illness is on THEM. How stressed they are, how upset they are on my behalf, how hard it is for them … it comes from a good place, but it just makes me feel worse.

    If you don’t know what to say, DON’T. A smile, a gentle squeeze of the hand or arm – that goes a long way.

  • Fleury April 18, 2013, 9:50 pm

    How about something as simple as “I love you. I’m sorry you’re hurting.” My bff was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at age 35. The stories she would tell me of people telling her how they knew how she felt because their 70 year old grandma had breast cancer and died etc etc were so hard for her. A) if you didn’t personally go through a diagnosis and cancer treatments you don’t understand, b) don’t tell a cancer patient about the person in the similar situation that died – they know they have cancer, they know it can kioll them, they don’t need to hear about it from you, and c) hearing about “old” people getting it does not help when you are the youngest person by 30 years in the chemo tratment room and you have 3 young children at home to take care of etc. It just reiterates how unfair this diagnosis already seems to you. What she has said she appreciated most were people asking only yes or no questions and taking cues about whether she felt like talking. Answering open questions like “how are you feeling” were just too emotionally draining to handle. And people who suggested ways they could help rather than asking her what they could do or to “let them know if she needed anything”. Many people feel uncomfortable asking for help. Just send the sick person a message saying “I’m taking my kids to the park for an hour. Can I swing by and pick up your kids too to give you a break?” Or “I made an extra lasagna. Would you like it fresh for dinner tonight or would you rather I freeze it and you can throw it in the oven next week?”. Ultimately, it came down to letting her know that I thought it sucked she had to be going through this, letting her know that she didn’t need to ask, I was going to help wherever she’d let me, and that she was a priority for me – so that she felt comfortable that when she did ask those few times for something, the answer would always be “of course I’ll be there” and never “oh, that’s not really convenient for me”

  • Enna April 20, 2013, 9:05 am

    It’s very hard to know what the right thing is to say. I think Anonymous’s story is so sad, her husband is so selfish, : men often leaving their wives during breast cancer and the reverse not true? Sounds like a double standard to me.

  • JustMe May 10, 2013, 11:31 pm

    A very good friend of mine recently lost a baby she hadn’t been expecting, but was excited (and, I’m sure, nervous) about nonetheless. Perhaps it’s the closeness of our relationship which meant I felt comfortable enough to say “I have no idea what you are going through, so I don’t know what to say except I am so sorry for your loss and you have my undying love and support.” Despite a virulent anxiety disorder, I have no guilt over what I said. I think it was perfectly apropos, and I can’t wait to see and hug the daylights out of her tomorrow!

  • Apt March 25, 2015, 9:29 pm

    A perfect example of what not to say to someone in an inner circle:
    My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in November. She’s a tough woman and I believe in her and sometimes I feel I’m the only one on this train since I live so far away and can’t afford to see her. Recently she had been transferred to the CCU and during that time my roommate had understood my mother was sick due to the conversations I had with people on my social media (as well as my mother’s social media). What you don’t say?
    “She’s at the end of her life.”
    “She is going to die.”
    “You should just say goodbye.”

    Don’t push them into volunteer opportunities to try and ease their pain with forced opportunities to help your religious ceremony right after you say these things either (especially if you know they aren’t religious, they have reasons). Do not switch the topic to yourself after saying such things. Is it true? We don’t know. She could get better. She could be fine.
    It’s fine to talk a little, or hug, or (to me) explain you had gone through this experience as well and still engage in a conversation by understanding, but don’t dismiss someone’s pain by changing the topic to yourself (ie: I need you to do this and this with me because your mom is going to die and you need to prepare for her death). That’s clearly uncool.
    This is what I am taking from this Ring Theory and from a medical standpoint with a very sick mother, I couldn’t agree more.

  • Penny April 27, 2015, 5:57 pm

    I’m in a circle right now. Not quite the center, as I believe the center is my father then my mother, then my sisters and I. Dad’s bladder cancer has returned. And he doesn’t have options. We will likely lose him in six months. We just got the news a bit over a week ago. It’s horrifying to watch the narcissism of someone who is in an outer circle of one issue trying to make it about them while completely ignoring what’s happening in my life.

    I was at lunch with two coworkers. We have a third coworker who’s father may have his cancer back as well. My female coworker, at lunch, went on and on about the guys father and how she was being so supportive and blah, blah, blah.

    I nearly stood up and left. She didn’t even acknowledge that my father is dying. She doesn’t ask how he’s doing, how I’m doing.. Nothing. All because there was no way for it to be about her.

    My girlfriend told me to mentally stab her with a fork. I’m taking real forks to work tomorrow.