Friday, January 20, 2012

TV Pitch: What Not To Say!

Television Pitch: What Not To Say!

So I had a block of time yesterday to just sit and think, in between snippets of Adele and the jackhammer like sounds of a Siemens Magnetom, and I realized that there might be a niche market for a new show called “What Not To Say!” . I don’t know if Clinton and Stacy from TLC’s What Not To Wear will be available, but I have a couple of fabulous sisters who could likely stand in as hosts. Their job would be to swoop in on unsuspecting people who say ABSOLUTELY THE WRONG THINGS when dealing with catastrophe. They would burst in unannounced, surprising the miscreant mis-speaker, and take them on a whirlwind training of WHAT NOT TO SAY. At the end, the reformed guest will be released back into the wild, er, go home, and be better prepared for the next challenging conversation with someone who is being smote.

I don’t mean people who are just obnoxious: I am talking about situations in which truly, there is NOTHING good to say. Some things really are so big and challenging and yikes, there just are no words to answer the alas—and I think people dealing with a massive crisis appreciate that. It’s almost unfair to think that anyone can have a CLUE about what to say. But sometimes even things that are meant well are just said epically wrong. Some things that truly just shouldn’t be said.

Other families dealing with crisis might take issue with my list. I respect that. This Magnetom inspired collection is reflective of our family experiences and my personal biases. As I go along, if anyone wants to add THEIR input to the list, please do!

So here’s part one of my quick and handy guide for the public, in case my show does not get picked up by TLC. Also included (BONUS!) are things TO say…also based on family experience. Thank you, friends…

First WHAT NOT TO SAY category:

Horror Story! Aka “Who Told You You’re Allowed to Rain on My Parade?”

a. “My Uncle Clem had (insert catastrophe of choice), and oh my gawd, it was horrible! His hair fell out, he couldn’t remember Aunt Tildy’s name, he walked into walls, the medicine turned him purple, and then he DIED. It was awful!”

I have NO IDEA why folks feel like someone dealing with a catastrophe is served by hearing about the Woes of Uncle Clem. If you know someone who died horribly after the same catastrophe your friend is facing, keep it to yourself. Really. It’s not motivational. It’s not a common ground that ANYONE wants to share.

Knowledge is not always power. Sometimes, ignorance really IS bliss, and if Uncle Clem spontaneously combusted while battling what my kid has, I truly don't want to know. That knowledge serves no purpose other than to drive a parent one step closer to insanity...which is a short walk sometimes, mid-battle.

In a similar vein, moms with kids should NEVER tell newly pregnant ladies about their labor horror stories. I don’t. Heck, I try to avoid telling them my pregnancy horror stories. The world needs to be populated. These stories don’t help.

WHAT TO SAY: “Hey, my Uncle Clem battled (insert catastrophe of choice). It was a tough road, but he’s doing great!”

If you have battled THE SAME catastrophe, feel free to share hope! Hope is slippery, and folks mid-battle can always use more experience-based hope.

b. “Well, side effects take a few days to show up"

Yes, there is some bias in this one, since someone said it to my cheerful 13 year old last week as she was bubbling with enthusiasm over successfully starting her new chemotherapy and NOT feeling instantly hideous. Her relief was palpable. This person rained on her parade. I have not yet crossed paths with her, but I will be sure to carry an umbrella.

YOU NEVER NEED TO BE “THE VOICE OF REALITY” FOR SOMEONE BATTLING CATASTROPHIC ILLNESS, ESPECIALLY A CHILD. I assure you, even a kid knows that what they have is serious. They know what reality is, because after your one sentence smackdown of their hope, they have to go live the rest of the days and weeks in the reality they are in. They still have at least 180 doses of that chemo before we even get to check if it’s working. They hang out in oncology clinics. Strangers stick them with needles and poke and prod them and talk about scary things while you are back getting groceries or whatever normal life you have. You do not need to be someone else’s Voice of Truth. Really. That’s why we have doctors and WebMD.

Only kidding, just the doctors part. Ahem.

WHAT TO SAY: “I’m so glad today is a good day for you.” See? That’s not hard, right?
OR: “I’ve heard that hospital is really great”…
”just read that a lot of research is being done in (insert catastrophe of choice)”…
again, foster realistic hope!

Stay tuned : More this season, er, week, on What Not To Say:

Merely a Flesh Wound!

I Thank God Almighty I am Holier Than Thou!

And Normalcy is Not a 4 Letter Word


  1. So, so well said - per usual. How proud all of us are of you, your gals, the teen, the Dad and the whole Clan(s)!


  2. You write so well - we all need guidelines and hopefully will help to not put our foot in mouth

  3. Dealing with my own mountains, the Worst was: It's God's Will/God's plan etc. How the Frack do YOU know? Do you have direct dial?

    And what I (so often ugh) usually say in times of woe is something like: i have no words/ theres nothing i can say except i love you and im here.

    And for my good friends.... Usually a few really choice words are the best medicine :)

  4. Sometimes silence and a (gentle) hug are the best words we can offer...unless you 'speak' words of chocolate? That's the ticket!

  5. sometimes the unprintable is really the most comforting response.