There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love

I was given this book to read in preparation for a panel discussion about helping people in crisis– I am a breast cancer treatment survivor who had to be convinced to accept help during my own chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery experiences.

At first, I was a bit dismissive. It’s easy to mistake the brightly colored cover, the simply drawn faces, and the illustrated, highlighted sentences for sentimental platitudes….you’d be sadly mistaken. And you would miss out on the best, plainest advice I’ve ever encountered.

Both as a sufferer, and as someone wanting to give comfort, I’ve hesitated to give or receive help. Suffering, i wanted to be strong, and it felt somehow like giving up to accept help. When people asked me ‘how are you?’ all I could answer was “fine.” When people asked me “how can I help?” the pressure of figuring that out meant the only possible answer was “I don’t know.”

The one person who got through my self-imposed isolation was kind, persistent and offered me specific tasks they could do for me, taking away any need on my part to make decisions or plan.

And that is some of the most useful information in this book: to be compassionate, not pity, that kindness is your credential to offer help, to stop being afraid your help is a burden, and to offer specific tasks suited to your own tastes (i.e. don’t offer to watch children if you are uncomfortable with children, offer to cook a meal instead).

There is a menu of empathetic tasks, actual phrases to say instead of what most of us normally reach for, like “This sucks” instead of “isn’t that fatal?”.

This book should be required reading for every counselor, nurse, and church member– or actually all of us as no one will be able to live their whole life without encountering a crisis of some kind.

The book spells out different situations, giving specific phrases, and meaningful tasks for chronic illness, divorce, grief, and potentially thorny issues like protracted infertility.

It rocks. And I say that from the perspective of someone who had to learn to accept help from others during treatment as well as the perspective of someone who has made mistakes and said the absolutely wrong thing in the offering of help to others.

This book reminds us that showing up, and offering help, even when misguided or unneeded is really what matters: showing we care.