Dr Mark Goulston is one of America’s leading psychiatrists and the author of many books, including Just Listen. Discover the Secret of Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. He can tell you what to say in the most challenging or seemingly hopeless of situations.
I asked him about a common predicament for newly widowed people. When we know we’re bogged down in grief but we’re getting by; we’re nothing like our old selves but not bad for someone whose sky has just fallen down. When we’re there and our friends are worried about our sleeping habits or tiredness or teariness and some well-meaning soul suggests that maybe we’re clinically depressed and in need of therapy.
Many of us hear this a few times and it’s a tricky one. Therapy is a wonderful thing but only when you feel you need it. It’s great to be able to take your life along to a professional and get a second opinion but when you’re pretty sure you understand what’s going on, how to politely decline?
Protesting that you’re fine sounds like denial because clearly “fine” is a long way off but just smiling and changing the subject can put distance in a friendship at a time when you need your friends around.
Here is what Dr Goulston suggests.
“As soon as you see that a conversation with a person who is trying to comfort you or show their concern is only making things more awkward, gently but firmly interrupt them and say, ‘It’s okay. If I were you I’d be concerned about seeing me showing the normal signs of sadness, tiredness and stress after someone you love has died and I would want to make it better too. But I can assure you, I’m actually doing well adjusting to life never quite being the same as it was but realizing that with time, I’ll still be able to have and make a life for myself. Thank you for caring.’”
Practice this. Just saying it to yourself will make you feel stronger and it’ll probably help your friends feel less uneasy too.
First published in Issue 11 of Widows and Widowers magazine