Tel Aviv Graffiti, 2015
Tel Aviv Graffiti, 2015


When someone we know experiences a difficult or unwanted life change many of us find ourselves not knowing what to say or how to be around that person. It could be a co-worker, friend, fellow parent, or even a family member.

Are we allowed to say, “How are you?” Or, “What’s new?” Is it tacky to say, “Haven’t seen you in a while?” Or, “I hear you’re going through some stuff?”

A lot of people don’t know. Fearing awkwardness, simple conversations and interactions dwindle. Ironically, things become increasingly awkward.

Our lack of knowing how to be present for someone who is experiencing an unwanted life change like divorce, sickness, death, or job loss only furthers the sense of social isolation and loss that a person is feeling and experiencing.

Here are a few tips that work for me:

  1. Be loving and compassionate and witness the undeniable reality of someone we know and care for.
  2. If you’re trying to say the right thing, don’t worry if you end up saying the wrong thing, or the almost right thing.
  3. Feel free to ask whether you’re saying the wrong thing, if you’re really wanting to know. Take cues from the person, but also be yourself and trust your instincts.
  4. Keep it real. Don’t artificially increase your level of care or concern unless it is the natural evolution of an already evolving relationship.
  5. Remember that unwanted life changes can radically impact a person in subtle and unexpected ways, but they can also reinforce the traits and characteristics they already have. Unwanted life changes add layers of complexity and new perspective, but they don’t obliterate the person we know.

I saw a beautiful article from Slate about a woman with cancer who created greeting cards with some of the things she wished her friends and family would say to her. You can access it here.

When things change