How to talk about bad situations

There’s a failure mode in communities where, when someone hasn’t been showing up for a while, other people let them know it’s noticed.  I’m sure they intend it nicely: “We miss seeing you!”  “So good to see you – hopefully we’ll see you next week, too?”  But to the recipient, it can feel like the other person was taking attendance every week and marking “ABSENT” by your name.

When the reason for absence is an illness, it can be even harder to come back.  A whole crowd of people asking, “So, how are you?”  A string of conversations in which you will try not to burst into tears.  A couple of people in my family have stopped going to our Quaker meeting for this reason.

When someone has been away, there’s probably too much to catch up on.  When you know they’ve been ill, they probably don’t want you to ask how they’ve been doing.  They don’t want to tell fifteen different concerned people their prognosis.  Of course you want to know how they’re doing, but you can find that out through asking some friend or relative who’s in the know.  Too intense an interaction just means the person will stay in hiding, which is not the outcome anyone really wants.

And meanwhile, a smile and a “Glad to see you,” is probably about right.


Relatedly, I liked this essay on the Ring Theory of Kvetching.




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