Sharing a hotel room this weekend, my friend Tami and I in separate beds, we laughed and giggled like 12 year olds at a sleep over. After a long day presenting at a conference, it was fun to finally have our feet up, let the glass (or two) of wine wash over our senses and relax the social filter that we had used all day long.
In an instant everything changed. My friend received a call from her son. As a type 1 diabetic, slightly A.D.D. and at the ripe old age of 17… he frequently needs to be checked on and given reminders. The friend that was to stay with him this night had his own emergency and had to leave Brandon alone.
The initial shock to Tami was “He’s all alone”. The second shock came when she realized he could have a “low” and not be aware during his sleep, without anyone there to check on him. The second shock came when she realized how far she was from him and how little control she had over the situation.
Nearing midnight the darkened hotel room continued to be illuminated by the light of her cell phone being turned on and off. Resting quietly nearby, I just listened to the conversations she had with him, essentially begging him to call when he went to bed and call if there were any issues. The texting and calling and begging were an indication that she was in full panic mode.
As the support that I tried to be to her, I asked where his pump site was, if it was secure and how soon before a friend would return to check on him. All she could process was the burning question “DID I MAKE A MISTAKE? COULD HE DIE?”
My attempt to soothe her fears with clarifying questions only aggravated her more, ramping up her anxiety, leading to more phone calls and a floodlight of ultra bring light emitting from her phone. It was clear my questions did not help the situation at all. So I tried a new approach, a light and friendly euphemism “It’s a beautiful mess, isn’t it?”
This led to a spare pillow being thrown in my direction and a stern “NO!!!” coming from her side of the room. I stopped talking at this point.
Four hours later the entire room was radiating in hotel lamp light. She had woken early (or perhaps not slept at all) and had been calling and texting Brandon and his friends frantically to get someone to check on him. With one eye open, I listened to a final call that ensured Brandon was doing well, so I promptly took the spare pillow and placed it over my head for an attempt to sleep for one more hour.
When the fears of the previous night were behind us, I asked Tami about the pillow she threw. “It was the euphemism you used” she replied, “It didn’t help AT ALL!!!” We laughed and then processed through the nights events. Together we realized that although euphemisms “appear” to help the outsider, they do nothing for the person in crisis. There is no icing you can put on a shit sandwich and make it taste better.
From this point forward, I am encouraged to look at euphemisms in this way, like a litmus test. If I were in her shoes that night, freaking out at the livelihood of my own child, would a cute-sy- motivational quote (like the one in every break-room that shows a cat dangling from a pole with the words: “Just Hang In There”) help me or the situation at all. Probably not.
So keep this in mind when you are faced with a friend, family or colleague struggling through a rough time.
Choose your words carefully or you may end up getting a pillow thrown at your face… or much worse.