In the last few years, I have learnt a lot about how to be there for others. I have actually learnt this in the reverse way- where I have been the one in difficulty and in need. And I have had the privilege of being on the receiving end of care from people around me when life has been difficult.
Maybe you know someone going through a tough time too? Whether it is loss of someone close, marriage breakdown, health-issues, career-change, natural disaster, family crisis, infertility, etc, we do need each other.
Here are some thoughts or things I’ve appreciated.
When there’s nothing to say, there’s nothing to say.
It is okay to say fewer things. Often this is better than blurting out things that you think will make them feel better.
Depending on what stage they are in the process, saying really positive things like quotes, verses, other happy-ending stories can be unhelpful if they are right in the deep of it and not ready for it, maybe save it for later when they are more settled. If you feel helpless and can’t find words, you can just say exactly that, that you just don’t know- that can be comforting for them too.
If you’re not sure, ask.
Ask them what is most helpful. Ask them if they want to hear positive things or not, ask them if they want help with something, ask them if there’s anything they can do, ask them if they want a meal cooked for them, etc. Then at least you have an idea where they may be at.
Questions are good because it gives them a chance to respond and take part, rather than feeling like everyone’s just going ahead and throwing help at them, when they may not want it just yet.
If they are emotional, let them be.
Crying throws a lot of us off, and so does other strong emotions like anger. Sometimes your friend may just need you to be there while you let them cry, ramble on angrily, or just sit there like a stunned mullet.
This is especially if they are in stages of grief where they are simply trying to get their heads around the situation. It isn’t always linear, so it may come unexpectedly and repeatedly. Try not to take it personally or feel too attached to what they say or do, these deep emotions will subside in time but expressing it can be one of the best things for them, though it may seem awkward or hard to hear/watch at the time.
Let them know where to find you
Some may decline help or not know how to ask for it. That is ok. Try not to hover too intensely or be their saviour.
Contact them every now and then to check in on them, so they know you are there, but you don’t have to babysit them. Ring, send a text or email so they know you are thinking of them. They will respond when they are ready.
Something is better than nothing
If you’re not sure what to do even from the start, a simple text, email or card just to acknowledge that you are aware they are going through a tough situation or that they are in your thoughts and prayers is better than not acknowledging they are. You can also drop by a small gift of flowers or food if that is appropriate.
When bits in life seem to fall apart, it can feel strangely lonely and it is nice to know that others realise and that you have not been forgotten, so little gestures like that are much appreciated.
You’re not going to get it right!
We’re all different, and so when life is topsy-turvy, we also all respond differently. You may feel like your friend ‘should be’ processing things one way, when they aren’t. They may not respond to you like you hope, etc.
This is all very tricky stuff and there are no clear right-ways or wrong-ways (though there are healthier ways than others). Some people like life to just get on quickly as it if things are normal and that helps them, while some need a bit of time to hide in a hole before they can come out and embrace the everyday. We can keep an eye on them but we need to let them figure that out.
Encouragement and other kinds of help
There are no clear rules in terms of how long it will take for them to feel better, so just keep gently encouraging them and softly nudging them forward.
Of course, don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel they are being destructive or harming themselves. (This is hard but) we also need to be told the truth. Seek the opinion of other trusted friends if you are unsure if your view is correct. Seek professional help if you think things are going awry.
Sometimes, tough situations bring other issues to the surface that doesn’t seem related. More severe things like depression, addiction, abuse in their history, etc may be out of your realm to ‘help with’ so don’t try and handle it yourself, there are many resources out there that can do that.
Hope this helps you be there for others!!
Sarah – Fit 4 Life Staff