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Why can’t I say the right things?

This was a very stressful week, and yesterday was the worst of it.

One of our pharmacists, J, received a call on Thursday afternoon that her mother was severely ill and would probably die within the next four hours.  She lives five hours from here, and the hospital is farther away still, so you can imagine the emotional turmoil that call created.

I spent most of yesterday on the phone, trying to cover J’s shifts for Friday evening and today.   Occasionally, I would wish this hadn’t happened on a holiday weekend, at a store on the far outskirts of our district, where the Saturday shift is 12 hours instead of the typical 9.  Of course I wish it hadn’t happened at all, and I’d immediately feel guilty for being so stressed over covering a difficult shift, when my mom is healthy and enjoying her vacation right now.

I worked out the coverage eventually, but even the solution was stressful.  Two pharmacists switched to different locations, one took on additional hours, and another gave up his Saturday off.  No one wanted to do it, but they all did.  And so I feel bad about that, too.  I couldn’t have done more, but I still feel bad.

Finally I can go home, and I actually have the holiday weekend off (if I were a pharmacist, I would have worked those shifts!).  While I’m at the grocery store, J calls to say her mother has greatly improved, to everyone’s surprise and joy.

As we’re talking, I want to say the right things so badly.  I want to say that I care, that I’m sorry this happened, that I wish I could do something for her; I want to be supportive and make her feel better.  I end up saying all the wrong things.  I’m awkward and unsure, and I respond in ways that make her re-explain things she’s already said.  I’m sure she wishes she had just gotten voice mail.  I wish she had just gotten voice mail.

I wish I could blame it on the day. I was still hyped up, distracted and unhappy that everything didn’t go smoothly. I am glad there is coverage, but it bothers me so much that it’s not to everyone’s satisfaction. But that’s not the reason I wasn’t able to say what I wanted to say…or anything even remotely good or comforting. It wasn’t the day, it was just me.

Why is it so hard to say the right things?


13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, that was a tough situation, all the way around. I have learned that a person’s (your’s) intent comes through. I used to worry, also, because it never seemed I had the right thing to say at the right time. But then I noticed that people seemed to get my deeper meaning anyway, so I started really tuning into other people and lo, I could tell what they meant, too, even when they stumbled over words a little. I can’t imagine anyone would want to work a 12 hour shift (!) but that goes with the territory of the career they chose~not your fault at all. I think you did great!

    April 7, 2012
    • I sure hope my intent came through. Obviously, I wish I could have made her feel better, but mostly I just hate the idea that I might have been making it worse for her.

      April 12, 2012
  2. Well, it’s never easy to say the right thing.
    There’s a french term for it – l’esprit de l’escalier, which means that when you’re not in the situation anymore, afterwards, the right thing to say strikes you.

    It’s my theory that when you’re right in the middle of the situation, you’re responding to so many stimuli, that your brain is not always free to think solely upon what to say. You’re trying to make sure you don’t take too long a time to respond, you’re looking at what they’re doing, what visual cues you get from that, you’re trying to not fiddle (for some people) etc. All of this grows a huge deal especially when you’re nervous and you begin to wonder whether the other person’s getting bored, whether they like you, whether you appear too nervous etc, and your brain finds it harder to focus.

    At least, that’s my theory. I could be wrong of course πŸ™‚

    April 7, 2012
    • That is exactly how it was – so many things to pay attention to, that go through your mind. Afterwards, when I was not immediately faced with my own fears of bumbling through my condolences, I could think more clearly.

      April 12, 2012
  3. In all the wrong things you think you said there is the fact that you took care of J by taking care of business. I know she is grateful that you were there and she did not have to find people to work her scheduled hours.

    Don’t beat yourself up. Maybe give some thought of what you would have liked to say to J and give her a call or send her a card.

    April 7, 2012
    • This is good advice! I have done this more than once because I am not good at saying the right thing at the right time. People always appreciate being thought of.

      April 9, 2012
      • It is great advice!! But I’m too chicken to do that now. I think I’ll keep it in mind for the next situation – I will practice saying way less, and then communicating with a nice card afterwards πŸ™‚

        April 12, 2012
    • You are right – she was even thanking me (which made me feel worse for not being able to say the “right” things). Naturally, as stressful as it was, I was more than happy to get those shifts covered so she could be with her mom.

      April 12, 2012
  4. It was a stressful day, and sometimes it’s difficult to say the right things when your brain is just so tired. I think what was more important is that you did the right things. You took care of the work so she could go to her mom. I’m sure she appreciates that πŸ™‚

    April 8, 2012
    • She was appreciative, and that did make me feel a little better – to know that I was a help to her. She’s a very nice person, and I think that’s what made me feel worse – wishing that I could make this good and nice person feel better when I couldn’t.

      April 12, 2012
  5. Awww, sometimes it just happens. I think your actions are more important than your words. I’m sure she understood what you couldn’t say. You have such a big heart–I’m sure you didn’t come across as horribly as you thought you did.

    April 9, 2012
    • Maybe not… You’re very nice to think I have a big heart – it’s pretty selfish, pretty often. I’m feeling better about it after all these comments. I like to think and hope that you are right about the actions being more important.

      April 12, 2012

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