What does "I don't want to talk about it" mean, practically speaking?
January 8, 2014 10:25 AM   Subscribe

A dear friend of mine who lives far away has lost two of her three cats to sudden, upsetting illness, in the space of a week. She has implied that she's not interested in talking about it, which I can understand.

I'm trying to decide if I should send her a short email saying "You don't have to reply to this, you don't have to say anything at all, but if you need someone to talk to, about anything, for any reason, at any time, I'm here."

I don't want to mess with her grieving, or make it worse, or imply in any way that I think it's About Me. I just want to help my friend. What, if anything, should I do?
posted by Sokka shot first to Human Relations (20 answers total)
Best answer: I'd just send an email that says simply "I'm thinking of you and I am here if and when you ever want to talk about it."

That says everything you want to say but still leaves her the choice to talk about it or not.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on January 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think she's made it clear she doesn't want to talk about it.

If you are close friends, she knows you're there and knows she can talk to you if she wants to. It'll just be on her terms. She never has to talk about it ever.

So I would keep in touch just as regular (she's your friend!) and just don't talk about it. Take your curiosity / concern and bury it. Talk about other things. Talk about the weather, tv, the oscars, whatever.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:30 AM on January 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Don't bring it up. She doesn't want to talk about it. When I had to re-home my kitty Rhubarb away (I was moving in with my boyfriend-now-husband and he is severely allergic) I did NOT want to talk about it, I didn't want to be reminded of it, I didn't want to have any sort of implication that a horrible sad thing happened. I was extremely sensitive about it, and an email like you're suggesting, and innocent and well intentioned as it is, would have gotten me all sobby faced again. The tears were barely being held back for weeks, so any time anyone mentioned her or cats in general I would have to excuse myself because I knew I was going to start crying again. I really wanted people to pretend it never happened. It has been over 2 years and I still get sad when I walk by the cat food in the grocery store or see pictures of cats that looked like Rhubarb. I love my husband so much, but I miss my kitty so so much. My husband knows never to bring Rhubarb up, and frankly so do all of my friends. Even now I still don't want to talk about it.

Honestly, I think what you should do is just act as normal around her as possible, but maybe try to organize some extra hangouts and fun times to distract her from the sadness she is feeling without making it obvious or over the top. Just be a good friend and do friend stuff. Have fun. Trust that if she ever does decide that she wants to talk about it that she will know she can come to you.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:35 AM on January 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

Yes, just send her a nice note but don't allude to the loss of her cats in it. She's probably pretty raw right now, and anything to do with thinking about them will just make it harder for her.
posted by vickyverky at 10:36 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to help her, take your cue from her. If she wants to talk about it, listen. If she wants to go for drinks, go for drinks. If she wants to take up salsa, go as her dance partner.

If she doesn't want to talk about it, don't send an email suggesting that you're available if she wants to talk about it. That's the opposite of respecting her wishes.
posted by Solomon at 10:37 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

(Just want to clarify that as hard and awful as it was to rehome Rhubarb, my husband was and still is worth it. I love him desperately, and at least Rhubarb has a home now where she is still loved. But even though I know it was the right choice and had to be done, I still never want to think about it or talk about it with anyone.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:44 AM on January 8, 2014

Just be warm in tone, without mentioning what happened or, for now, discussing pets at all. Say, I've been thinking of you. Share your news, mention books you thought she might like or movies you believed she might enjoy. That will get across that you are her friend and also express your respect for the line she has (understandably) drawn.

When awful things like this happen, it is great to just know you have friends, especially friends who understand how to stay away from a painful subject until you bring it up.
posted by bearwife at 10:45 AM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: I had to have my folks' 15 year-old cat put down last year while they were on holiday. He wasn't even my cat (and had a reputation for being a jerk) but I couldn't talk about it for a couple of months without getting a huge lump in my throat. I did not want to talk about it and still would prefer not to since he died in my care and I still feel guilty about it, even though he died from an existing condition.

You refer to this friend as a dear one, so hopefully she's well aware that she can cry on your shoulder if need be. You sound like a good friend, OP. She probably already knows you're there for her.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she's already told you she doesn't want to talk about it, I would not send even the general note - she'll know what kicked off the email, and indirectly talking about it is still talking about it. If she's having trouble holding it together, your email may show up at the wrong moment and upset her a lot more.

What I would do (and this is based having been in your friend's situation, albeit with a couple of months rather than a week between the unexpected cat deaths), is see if you can find a way to be there for her in a way that is not at all, even vaguely, about her loss. Can you reach out a little more often than you normally would with a funny story, an interesting link, a picture of something she'd like? Reach out a different way than normal - send a postcard or a care package or something if you usually keep in touch digitally? Something to help distract me a bit is what I appreciated most in that situation. Something 100% not-cat-related, though.
posted by Stacey at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: After the Best Dog in the World had to be put down lest he suffer any more from cancer, I let friends know I was unable to talk about the loss. Several sent flowers and sympathy cards, which moved me deeply and to my great surprise, helped. I don't know your friend of course, but that's one datapoint, you'd know best.

(Don't send lilies. Lilies are toxic to cats.)
posted by jamaro at 11:17 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I say "I don't want to talk about it" this usually translates to "I don't want to talk about it YET"

It sometimes takes me time to process things and it's a way of letting people know, in no uncertain terms, don't ask me questions right now, let me deal with this in my own way and I'll open up about it IF and WHEN the time is right for me.

So, the suggestions above that indicate you should send an email to your friend sending your love and thoughts is a good idea IMO. It indicates you're open to listening to your friend when she is ready to talk, but you are still respecting her need for silence for now.
posted by JenThePro at 11:44 AM on January 8, 2014

As it happens, I just sent an email with sad news and said "I don't want to talk about it" in that email, and my theory after reading these comments is that people can mean different things when they say that.

Basically, I meant that I didn't want to have a discussion about it and didn't want people checking in on me constantly, but that an expression of sympathy was just fine. So it was weird to me that one of my friends never even responded to the email or said anything at all, even though I know she was just taking me very literally (and I am not upset with her for this, as it is in a sense what I asked for).

So, yeah, it probably depends on your friend. If I were you, I would just send a warm note saying that you're thinking of her and sending your love.
posted by hought20 at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2014

As a person who generally does not like to talk about things of that nature, I can say that I always appreciate my friends who both acknowledge that and offer their availability should I need it. Different people (of course) will mean different things, but I can say that in my case it means I genuinely don't want to talk about, but a note that acknowledges this will both remind me how well my friends know me and remind me that I can, if I want to.

A note, email, or even text message is also nice in that it gives her the opportunity to hear your sympathy without being required to respond appropriately right then, which might be otherwise difficult. Cornering her in public to express this would probably be awful, but a note takes away the immediacy and pressure of in-person interaction.
posted by dizziest at 12:11 PM on January 8, 2014

Emails are easily ignored when the receiver wants to ignore them. I'd go ahead and send it. You're a good friend for wanting to express support but not be pushy about it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:42 PM on January 8, 2014

When my beloved cat Smoke died, my "I don't want to talk about it" meant "If I even say the word 'cat' right now, I will start crying again, and I don't want to cry in public/ at work." A brief note or email offering support would have been welcomed and appreciated, though.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:56 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I lost a beloved bird years ago, and made it clear to my friends that I didn't want to talk about it. I really didn't want to, and when one person did bring it up anyway, it felt really disrespectful.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:47 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I lost my lovebird last summer, I was devastated and couldn't talk about it with anyone without breaking down. My friend sent me a Thinking-Of-You card which said he was so sorry - that was all.

It was perfect and fit my grief just right.
posted by aryma at 10:14 PM on January 8, 2014

What does "I don't want to talk about it" mean, practically speaking?

It means what it says.

What, if anything, should I do?

Its not a matter of what you should do. Its a matter of what your friend wants and needs. Does she need a ride to someplace that she mentioned in passing? Volunteer for it. Was there something you two used to do regularly, like have Friday dinners at place X? Then make sure that you keep doing that. Things like that. You really have to zip it and listen more to begin to understand what she needs and wants right now.
posted by xm at 11:36 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quick reminder to fast readers/late answerers: My friend lives thousands of miles away in a different country.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:11 AM on January 9, 2014

Best answer: Sorry about that, and thank you for pointing that out.

If you live far away, you can still provide support. I'd keep in touch, maybe a bit more than usual but not to the point of being annoying. Send an email, a link to something interesting or nice or anything relevant once in a while, email a line or two of how you've been doing, maybe send a pic or two if you visited some common friends etc. Nothing too heavy but just to get the point across that you've been thinking of the person and you acknowledge (sincerely if you do) that your friend is going through a bad time. Since she has said she doesn't want to talk about it, I'd keep it super-light. And please be sincere about it coz its ridiculously easy to tell otherwise from where she is at. Just care like you normally do.

When you talk on the phone, listen more. Its an awfully difficult skill- to just let the other person say what they want to, and let them sort of lead the direction of conversation for the most part, not all of it. If they call you, you should be able to tell their mood from what and how they talk. Learn to know if they want to just vent or they need help in solving a problem (in which case they might ask you directly if they are direct, and maybe not if they arent).

All of this really applies to any friend who has experienced a loss, and losses as we know, come in all forms. Hope this helps!
posted by xm at 9:58 PM on January 10, 2014

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