What is the best way to support a friend that is going through a challenging time? What do you say? What don’t you say? These are real questions that usually come up when you aren’t even prepared to deal with them.
I come to these questions via many different angles but today I am going to focus on one personal angle.
In 2008 I lost my daughter to suicide. I was devastated as any mother would be, but the aftermath of her death was more difficult because of the people in my everyday life. Some really good friends at the time no longer are my friends. Some people who were simply acquaintances became very important to my mental well-being. Why would this phenomenon happen?
I believe it is because people don’t know what to do, say or not to say, in a crisis situation. For some, it hits too close to home. For others, it makes them so uncomfortable that they would rather turn away from you than deal with their feelings. A lot of people would not even approach me after I returned to work because they just didn’t know what to say. Some still haven’t to this day over eight years later.
One thing I have come to realize though is that it is always a very personal decision the individual makes based on their feelings and has nothing to do with the person in the crisis situation.
From my perspective though I can tell you it is like adding insult to injury. I didn’t know who I could turn too. I didn’t know if I could share my feelings or not. I was already all torn up inside. Adding how people were treating me during this time just added more confusion around my pain. It made the simple things in life seem so much more overwhelming. I know I was broken from the loss of my daughter and the loss of friends and family on top of that was almost more than I could take at the time.
So what can you say if you want to be there for someone? What should you do and what shouldn’t you do, they kind of go hand in hand. Tell the person you are there for them and really be there for them.
One thing you shouldn’t say is “I know exactly how you feel.” You may have been in a similar situation, you may have lost a loved one, you may have had EXACTLY the same thing happen to you but truly you really don’t know exactly how the person feels because you aren’t that person. We each have led different lives, we each deal with every aspect of life differently. At that precise moment, you don’t know. Say you are sorry for their loss. Say you are sorry they are going through this and that you will help them in any way you can. Say you love them and give them a hug.
Don’t say “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” They really aren’t going to know and they won’t ask anyway because of their emotional state. Tell them what you are going to do for them and do it. If you see their lawn needs mowing, mow it. If you know they aren’t eating right, cook something for them to eat. If you know they are alone, visit them. If you know the person who passed on, TALK ABOUT THEM. Just because someone loses someone doesn’t mean they don’t ever want to hear about them. In fact, it is 100% the opposite. They want to talk about the person they lost at every possible chance. It helps them work through the loss.
I have some friends that don’t want to talk to me about their children because I lost my daughter. I know they do this because they are trying to be thoughtful but in fact, I want to hear about their lives. I want to hear about their kids. I want to know that laughter and fun are still happening in their lives. Not talking about their lives in no way makes my life better. It does put a shadow over our friendship which in turn only makes you not want to be around me. That in the end, hurts both of us.
The people in my life have drastically changed over the last eight years. Why? Because I have drastically changed over the last eight years. Some people have grown with me and others have moved on based on one thing or another in their lives or in their feelings. Is this good or bad? I don’t think I can judge that. It is just a fact of where things are today. I do miss a lot of the people that are no longer in my life but I understand that we are not all made the same and tragedy affects us all differently.
If you find yourself in a similar situation and really want to be there for someone who is going through a personal crisis. Be prepared to grow, expand, and be a new person along with the one you are sharing the experience with. This goes for a death, a medical challenge, a divorce, the list goes on. Each person’s personal crisis is different. As always, each person’s journey is different.
Let me know what helped you through a personal crisis. What made a difference for you?