Don’t stick your foot in your mouth

It happens to all of us, at some point in time we will find out someone we know has a terrible disease or is hospitalized from an horrific accident or any number of painful personal tragedies.

For most of us the shock of this news strikes deep.  These are things that happen to people far outside our social bubble.  Your world has shifted slightly on its axis and you don’t know how to interact with those who have been affected.

You go to visit your friend or co-worker in the hospital and freak out a bit by hospital tubes, wires and machinery or by the physical changes that have taken place.  You tell their spouse that your friend or co-worker looks unrecognizable!

You visit your cousin with cancer and shudder when you see her bald head.  You blurt out that it is horrible that they’ve lost their lovely hair!

You want to be supportive, but you need to talk about the feelings you’re having as well.

What do you say and to whom do you say it?

I’ve seen something that is referred to as Concentric Circles of Caring.  This is a good guide to figure out who you should offer comfort and support to and who you can express your more negative feelings to.

Concentric circles of caring


The concept is quite simple.  Imagine (or draw if you need) a small circle.  This circle represents the person who has the illness or injury.  They are allowed to vent their fears and concerns to anyone.  They should not have to bear the emotional break-down of any other party.

Around that circle is their next-immediate personal support.  This may be a spouse, parent or caregiver.  They can vent to anyone except the person in the middle.

Now another circle, the siblings, children and close relatives.

And another, this time it’s other family, and friends.

And another, co-workers, and casual acquaintances.

Finally there’s everyone else.

The key here is to offer comfort and support to anyone who is in a smaller circle than yours.

If dealing with illness, death and dying is something you just can’t do with a brave face then offer your support in other ways.  Offer to make casseroles that can be frozen for convenient meals.  Offer to help carpool kids to practice.  There are a lot of day to day things that can become overwhelming for those in the innermost circles, find out what will relieve that pressure from their lives and do what you can to help.

When you need to vent your feelings of pain and anguish at the situation always go to those who are in your circle or one outside of your own.

If you remember to comfort in and vent out you should be able to keep from putting your foot in your mouth by saying something potentially insensitive to someone who’s already dealing with too much pain.