David Richman on supporting people when they need us most (#34)

When someone is going through a difficult time like grief, trauma or personal challenges it can be very hard to know what to say. 

Often we end up saying nothing at all because we’re so scared of saying the wrong thing.  

My hope for this episode is that it will help us to better support people when they are going through difficult times. 

We talk to David Richman about his own experience with grief when he lost his sister to cancer. David noticed that people were open to sharing the tasks of cancer but often avoided the emotions of cancer. This drove him to write a book called Cycle of Lives where David tells the stories of 15 real people who are battling cancer. The stories in the book explore the trauma and events in their lives that shaped the way they dealt with the emotions of cancer.  

It is from this perspective that we explore grief, how we can support the people we love and how to build relationships that make life worth living. 

We hope you enjoy this heartfelt conversation with David Richman. 

You can connect with David through his website

You can check out the book here. All revenue from the book goes towards charity. 

You can listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or Simplecast.

Show Notes

00:01:35 – endurance sport.
00:05:04 – Running is meditative.
00:06:50 – the life events that motivated David to start endurance sports.
00:08:50 – the importance of caring for yourself first instead of impressing people all the time.
00:11:03 – adversity can make you better or it can make you bitter.
00:13:56 – I have to vs I get to.
00:16:55 – receiving help in difficult times.
00:20:37 – not worrying what others think of you.
00:24:14 – do people know how to deal with grief?
00:26:14 – why David’s sister was so important in his life.
00:31:25 – how did the book, Cycle of Lives, come about?
00:35:13 – Just put your feet on the ground and make your bed every day.
00:40:07 – how to have open conversations where people were open to talk about trauma and grief.
00:44:48 – how can we best support people through difficult times?
00:47:15 – what to say when someone is going through a tough time?
00:50:25 – you might be the only person who showed care.
00:52:58 – asking open questions is more important than saying the right thing.
00:55:35 – scared of saying the wrong thing.
00:59:45 – we can choose our response.
01:00:50 – we are all passer-by’s in each other’s lives.
01:04:55 – get in touch with David.

Links to References 

Song: Check Yo Self by Ice Cube 


Winning in the middle of the pack by David Richman 

Cycle of Lives by David Richman 

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 

Key Quotes 

“The way to train for it is just to do it.” 

“[Running] is very meditative, I can solve problems, I can ponder stories, I can kust calm down and unwind from the day.” 

“Meditating is like being at the bottom of the ocean and just letting out a breath and each breath is a bubble. That’s a thought. And you just let it go. It goes to the top of the water and it pops. That thought’s gone. And you do another, and another and eventually your just quietely at the bottom of the pool with no breath. That’s what biking or running does for me. I can feel it shedding away these problems or issues or whatever stresses are going on in my life.” 

“I was an overweight guy, a smoker, I was not healthy, I was stressed out in life, I was not in a good place. I just said: man, I got to change my life.” 

“My sister called me and told me she was been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.” 

“I literally tried to run for two minutes straight and I couldn’t do it.” 

“I realised at that point that I lived my whole life at that point to please others…I realised that was the wrong thing to do. I needed to worry about myself first in order to be a better father, a better person, a better employee, a better friend.” 

“…changing my brain from ‘I have to do something’ to ‘I get to do it'”. 

‘If you’re not doing it because you want to do it then eventually you might resent that. And I did not want to do things that I resented anymore.” 

“I was resenting people for not giving me what I wanted but I have to give myself what I want.” 

“We all need support. And yes, I needed support. But the question was, would I allow anyone to support me or were there people around to support me?” 

“I needed to develop the strength to allow me to be vulnerable to accept help.” 

“Once I accepted [things are going to be hard] and felt good abiut the things I was doing throughout the day, then the stresses went away and I become a more approachable person. And a more authentic and honest person.”  

“Taking care of the guy in the mirror first allowed me to not seek other people’s approval to feel good about myself.” 

“It’s this progression of doing it for yourself first, learning to forgive yourself and allowing that forgiveness to prove to yourself that you don’t have to be perfect. And then by knowing you’re not perfect that allows people to interact with you on a more grounded, authentic, heart-centred way.” 

“The vast majority of people are not equipped [to deal with grief]” 

“Talking about difficult things like trauma and grief requires you to have the ability to make mistakes – we all don’t want to do or say the wrong thing, especially when it comes to somebody’s grief.” 

“How many times do people not deal with grief because they don’t believe that anyone really cares.” 

“I didn’t want to bring her down into my problems.” 

“Several years later I realised that I hadn’t yet grieved the fact that the only person who really knew me and the difficult childhood I had was gone.”  

“That was the one person I could call: my sister.” 

“I’ve learnt not to judge other people’s grief and trauma because it’s all real, it’s all valid.” 

“They all seemed to be able to talk about the cancer in terms of tasks… but when it came to the emotional stuff it was a bit more inward and isolating and they we’re really able to talk about it.” 

“I just figured that if every day I could get out of bed and put my feet on the ground and turn around and make my bed and go about my day, it was a good day.” 

“I wasn’t there to judge them.” 

“I learnt a lot of things. I learnt that people naturally want to isolate themselves when they are going through something difficult because they don’t want to burden people, they feel shame, they don’t want to bring other people down, they’re embarrassed, you name it. They kind of self-isolate. I’ve also learned that it’s easy for them to be abandoned by friends, family, loved ones because those people don’t know what to say, don’t know what to do, don’t want to burden, don’t want to say the wrong thing or whatever. So abandonment and isolation is a big deal. I’ve learned that sympathy is oftentimes what someone is not looking for. They don’t want you to say you’re sorry. What happened to them is not your fault. They don’t want your sympathy. That doesn’t help them solve their emotional issues. I’ve also learned that we don’t know without asking the right questions and without getting deeper. We don’t know where people are at on an emotional level.” 

“I’ve learnt to not judge, don’t abandon, don’t give sympathy, don’t try to guess where people are at emotionally.”    

“Don’t be scared of saying the wrong thing. Often times saying something is more than most people would do.” 

“The old David would have texted back and said: I’m so sorry to hear that; if there’s anything you need please let me know. That’s what the old David would’ve done. But I know that it is all wrong!” 

“It’s just knowing that you care on an authentic basis.” 

“When you say you’re OK, are you really OK? Or are you just scared of burdening me? Because I don’t think you’re burdening me. But maybe you’re not in the right headspace to talk about it, which is fine. But when you say you’re OK, do you really mean you’re OK?” 

“You don’t know if you weren’t the hundredth person and they don’t want to talk because they don’t want to talk about it a hundred times or if you’re the first person that actually cared and they don’t want to trust you because nobody else showed they care so you can’t care.” 

“Just give yourself a safe space to say the wrong thing. It will usually not be the wrong thing.” 

“I don’t think there are any stupid questions. I built this thing up in my head to be the most stupid thing too ever say and she never even gave it a second thought.” 

“No one can make me feel a certain way, only I can make myself feel a certain way. No one can fix me, I can only fix myself. So if I think only I can make myself feel a certain way or fix me then why am I going to make anyone else feel a certain way or fix them? I just want to let people know I care.” 

“People feel the way they do because of what’s going on in their own heads.” 

“All we want to do is provide a safe space for people to know that we care, that they are not alone.” 

“We have the ability to choose our response in how we act or feel and other people do too.” 

“We are all just passer-by’s in each other’s lives.” 

“We want to control the people we love because we want to hold them close and we want them to love us. But the more we hold onto people, the more they want to escape. If we let people go they are more likely to come back to us and if they do come back it’s because they want to be there not because they have to be.” 

“It’s amazing to think that the people who do not need to have you in their life are choosing to have you in their life. You are adding enough value that they are foregoing all other options to spend time with you.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.