Recently I have heard an unusual amount of bad news. Families facing tragedy, children with cancer, lost jobs, depression, anxiety … we are all facing an unusually challenging time. However, some have been given an exceptional amount of difficulty on top of the current COVID crisis. Surrounding this plethora of challenging circumstances are friends wanting to help but simply do not know how. This is a simple guide to offering support to anyone who is either facing a new tragedy or has just received news which from the outside seems completely unbearable.
These tips are offered from personal experience and input from friends. Please know they are not absolutes. Here are some simple ideas for things to do or not to do when wanting to help a loved one going through a difficult time.
1. Make it about THEM not YOU
Keep in mind that this time is completely about them. They have been dealt a tragedy, and most likely do not want to hear about a similar time in your life or how you understand what they are going through. Each situation is unique. I know, we all struggle to find the right words. A simple ‘ I cannot even imagine how you are feeling’ or ‘ I am so sorry you are facing this’ goes a long way. These phrases open the door for the individual to share their true feelings. Comparing their journey to something in your life narrows the sharing space implying they should feel as you did. True support is being a blank canvas.
2. Survival Mode
Often when faced with the impossible or unthinkable, the body enters survival mode functioning. The person is in fight mode and willing to do whatever needed to win their battle. Their thoughts, functioning and actions may not make sense from the outside. Remember their mind, right now, is functioning differently than yours. They may be overwhelmed with tasks but appear completely fine from the outside. Whatever they look like from the outside does not necessarily equal what is being felt on the inside. Know that they may not want many to see the emotional side or the ugly side of their battle. A person in tragedy is not functioning the same as you are.
3. Offer Messages of Encouragement … But Careful with the Emojis
We live in a world of text messaging and most likely the individual does not want to spend lots of time talking on the phone. Text messaging is the perfect avenue for communication. Simply send over encouraging thoughts or loving phrases anytime they are on your mind. These messages can be especially welcomed on days of procedures, surgeries, or during times of waiting. I do caution the use of emojis. For me, a simple thumbs up or praying hand without words seemed a bit insignificant when my family was facing cancer. Be sure to include a few words. These words can be as simple as ‘thinking of you today’ or ‘holding you in prayer.’ Simple statements go a long way. Your words may help pull someone out of sorrow or despair even if for a moment. Simple loving statements go a long way
4. Easy with the questions
Naturally, we want to know all the details surrounding the event. Please consider the appropriateness of questions or whether they are necessary. With due time, the details will be told. The individual will share what they are comfortable with. Perhaps, they do not have the answers to your questions. Perhaps, they do have the answers but have not yet figured out how to share them. Consider that they are most likely sharing what they are comfortable with at the time. Please be respectful and considerate of this. Questions can be overwhelming during a time of tragedy.
5. I must do something
Some of us simply cannot sit idly when we know someone we love dearly is facing a difficult time. We often ask, what can I do to help? In my experience, it is easy to shut people out when you are in the throes of tragedy. However, offering to bring a meal or pick up a child for an activity may be helpful. Even more helpful is stating what you will do instead of asking a generic what can I do. For example, let your friend know you will be dropping off a meal and simply ask what is the best day to do so. If your friend has children they most definitely need help! You can let them know you are free to pick up their child for a playdate and simply ask for the best day. Offering to pick up your friend for a lunch date or coffee may be just the distraction they are longing for. By doing this, you make it easier for the individual to receive help and not have to think much about it. Let your friend know what you plan to do for them.