What to say when bad things happen to people you love

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

In life, Emily McDowell will tell you, bad things happen. And sometimes it’s hard to find the words when those bad things happen to people you love.

Luckily for us, Emily has particularly good insight into finding the right words. She’s been helping people out since 2013 with her range of greeting cards, and now she’s released a book with Kelsey Crowe, PHD titled: There is no good card for this: What to say and do when life is scary, awful and unfair to people you love.

I remember the first time I saw one of Emily McDowell’s gift cards. It read:

“In Japan broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. Consider this when you feel broken.”

It was eloquent in a way I had never seen on a Hallmark card. And I thought it was perfect.

Emily’s insight is drawn from one of the loneliest times in her life. At only 24 years old she was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Family and friends began to disappear from her life, not knowing what to say, or trying and unintentionally saying completely the wrong thing.

I spoke to Emily about the book on Kinderling Conversation. You can listen to the whole interview here:

Recently, Emily launched a new line of parenting support cards. She was inspired because of the amount of judgment around parenting, and the idea that you’re meant to love being a parent all the time.

I made these cards in the hopes that they'll help parents feel supported and relieved, and that we can start to normalize the idea that struggling as a parent doesn't make you a ‘bad parent’. It just means you're a human,” she says.

There are a couple of situations that I find particularly tricky as a parent who is still married with healthy children. Emily’s book has suggestions for all these areas. 

When someone you love is struggling with fertility:

Emily says it’s important to let your friends or family know that you care, that you’re there for them, and that you understand.

“With infertility, a lot of it comes down to knowing what NOT to say: making suggestions that they relax, do yoga, etc., or diminishing the problem by making ‘at least’ statements like ‘At least you have one healthy child!’ or in the case of miscarriage, ‘At least you know you can get pregnant!’ Friends should also avoid pushing adoption, or making hopeful statements like ‘It'll happen when you're ready.’”

When your friend or family is going through a divorce:

While it can be tempting to find out why the relationship broke down, avoid trying to get the details. You can let them know you’re there if they want to talk, but only if you are willing and able to sit and listen.

Emily says, “If there's time for a real answer, you can ask about how they're feeling about the kids, moving, etc. Instead of immediately offering optimistic advice or judgment (for example: ‘You'll find someone else!’ or ‘I had a feeling something was wrong for a while’), it's best to wait a few months or more to offer perspective.”

If a child has passed away:

Emily says that it’s important to be present. Check in with parents and loved ones of the child without requiring a response. Don’t always avoid speaking about the child, as sometimes parents are relieved that others are still thinking about them.

“Remember that small gestures of support can be just as meaningful as large ones, and that there's no expiration date on grief. The parents' world won't ‘go back to normal’ after a few months - there's no ‘normal’ to go back to - so as time passes and support dwindles as people's lives get busy again, make sure your friends know you're still there for them.” 

You can view (and order) all of Emily’s cards, or purchase her book at her website

Also see:

:: I finally stopped being a mum martyr and I couldn't be happier
:: Navigating the IVF rollercoaster, a man's perspective
:: Why parenting is a paradox
:: Mindfulness tips for kids and parents with Amy Taylor-Kabbaz
:: We need to change how we look at mothers' bodies
:: Teaching kids resilience: Watch Dr Justin Coulson's great advice