I’ve honestly never felt more alone than I did when my mom died. It was as if I was by myself in an alternate reality and was the only one experiencing the effects of this devastating event. Even when I would talk to my friends or acquaintances, it was never addressed or even acknowledged. Not even my closest friend of many years offered condolences. I couldn’t help but wonder: does my pain even matter? Does anyone care?
When I talked to my therapist about this, she mentioned it may have less to do with people not caring and more to do with people not knowing how to care. If you haven’t experienced losing someone you love, comforting someone in that situation can be scary. It seems easier to just avoid the issue all together. This is very understandable.
When the people we love are suffering, in whatever form and for whatever reason, it can be hard to know what they need and how to be there for them during hard times.
First and foremost, it never hurts to ask. Ask what they need, how you can support them, and what you can do, if anything, to help them through their situation. Secondly, as someone who has been on the needing end of some support, I also encourage you to take these steps as you seek to be your friend’s solace in the midst of their suffering:
Ask about it.
It’s their reality, so pretending it doesn’t exist by avoiding the topic will only make them feel more alone. It may be awkward to bring up, and they may not even want to talk about it, but doing so shows you are not only aware of what’s going on in their life but are also available to be a listening ear if they need to talk or process their experiences. Just knowing someone is interested and available is huge when you feel alone in all your feelings, questions, and pain.
Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand.
When my mom passed away, the most vocal person in my life for the first few weeks was someone who was my friend in high school but that I hadn’t talked to in many years. Why her? Because just a year earlier, her mom died of breast cancer. She got it. And she knew just how lonely and painful those times can be, especially when other people don’t fully get it. BUT, just because you don’t fully get it, doesn’t mean you can’t support someone and love them through this hard time anyway. It easy for someone who has gone through the same or similar experience to provide a kind word, but they aren’t the only ones who can. If you get it, great; use your personal experiences to relate to your friend. If you can’t even image what they’re going through, great; use the fact that you love them to be there for them anyway.
Depending on the situation at hand, they may be busy with family matters or just not in the mood to do much, but it still feels good to have someone checking in on you. The simple knowledge that someone is thinking about you, your well-being, and what you’re going through is often times enough to feel held during hard times. A simple text is sometimes all they need.
Even though they may not want to or have the time to hang out, it doesn’t mean you should stop inviting them. People can tell when you are walking on egg-shells around them and not acting normal.
Remember: a huge, not normal thing is happening in their life; the last thing they need is their friendships to become awkward and uneasy as well.
So as much as you can, don’t disappear and don’t get weird. Instead, focus on being a place of normalcy and consistency when everything else in their life is changing, uneasy, or filled with questions.
Offer and then offer again.
If they’re anything like me, asking for help in any way does not come easily. We don’t want to feel like a burden or pull you into our sad situation, so we won’t ask. But having someone offer is refreshing, even if we don’t capitalize on the offer. When mom my passed, I had a co-worker who consistently asked me to let her know if there was anything she could do, and I continuously turned her down, until I didn’t. When she offered to help with my mom’s memorial service, I finally had something I needed and took her up on her offer to make my favorite artichoke dip.
I never would have asked on my own, but her unrelenting offers to help gave me confidence she was serious and not just throwing out an empty offer because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
Just because they may turn you down once doesn’t mean tomorrow your offer won’t be exactly what they need – to get them out of the house, bring them food, be a listening ear, or come over for a movie and not talk at all.
So remember when the people we love are suffering, we may not know exactly what to do, but don’t worry about that. Simply being intentional and present goes way further than you might think. It could be exactly what they need.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash