“He is dead!” – the horrified scream is reaching my ear. It is 4am in the morning. I am on my phone listening to a close friend. She just lost a close person and the pure horror in that reality is shaking us both to the core. Death. End of all hope. Pure pain.
Aside of weeping there is not much more. What can be said? What are the right words? Immediately I realize that there are no words at all that can picture the emotional rollercoaster that we are in. At the same time we are just connected via phone – leaving no chance to put an supporting arm around her shoulders and squeeze her gently. So what to say!?
“I hear you”, I whisper. “I am feeling with you.”
Have you ever been in such a situation?
Not you but a close friend needs to walk through hell. And you cannot change it. You are a bystander. Somehow emotionally affected – and then again not affected at all. To see a friend in pure devastation and not be able to do anything can be challenging, too.
Therefore, I would like to share a few thoughts on that. Thoughts I draw from the experience of having walked through hell myself and from several experiences when I walked with close friends through their valley of death.
Be there. Listen. And don’t leave.
When the disaster hits, noone is prepared. Whether it is a devastating illness, the death of a close person, adultery of a spouse or financial ruin – when it hits a person’s life, there (usually) was no preparation time. The horror, shock and emotions need to be put in words. So when your friend is in this, give him/her some time to talk. Or sit in silence. Or weep. Or scream. Whatever is needed.
If you are unsure whether you should stay or leave, ask your friend. Or tell him/her, that you will stay in the room next door – so your friend can choose what is needed. The same is true if you are distant – write that sms saying “I am thinking about you.” “Let me know when you want to talk.” “I am happy to listen.”
In general, what really helps is when you make yourself available (as much as possible; it is okay that you maintain your own life, too). People in pure pain don’t know themselves anymore. Everything that was so clear yesterday, is hard to even remember today. On some days getting up, getting dressed and eat even seem unmanageable. So, although you don’t want to force your friend into anything, be a bit proactive and prepare some dinner (although he/she might not eat much) or ask him/her out for a walk.
You don’t need to be an expert
The feeling of being overwhelmed with the situation as a friend very often leads people to the assumption that they are not “equipped” enough to stay in that situation. All these questions in your head “What should I say?” “What can I ask?” “What if I say something wrong?” very often leads to silence and disconnection from the friend in need.
Remember: your friend is in this for the first time, too. You don’t have to be an expert. And you don’t have to find a solution. At best, you are just there – as you would have been, when the catastrophe didn’t hit. And you can be honest, too. Just say “this really sucks“. And then laugh together. What a f***!
You don’t need to Find the answer
Whatever happened – you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes terrorizing your friend with questions. Same is true for “good advice”. Even if you had been in the same situation, chances are high that your friend lives in a different reality than you did. Your friend needs time to figure out for him/herself.
I really encourage you, to be there and listen. But be very cautious to give advice or to ask “why”-questions. Ask your friend how he/she is feeling. Ask him/her how the day was. What is easy? What is hard? Give him/her a stage to express his/her feelings. In that way you raise the chance for healing and a feeling to be understood.
Every day is different
In times of grief it is amazing how rapidly emotions can change. One day you are not able to see any hope, another day you might have first – crazy – dreams for the years to come.
Therefore, if you are supporting someone in grief, ask him/her how she is feeling. Don’t assume. If you haven’t talked for a day – check on the status quo. And don’t judge – regardless what the answer is. Be there as a friend and listen. For your friend that very listening will mean the world.
Take care of yourself, too
How are you feeling? When seeing a friend suffer it can be extremely overwhelming and stressful. Admit to yourself what the whole situation is doing with you. Start journaling – and put your emotions in words.
Although you are not the one in pain, somehow you are in pain, too. Be honest about it, tell friends yourself. And be gracious to yourself. Pain and sadness draw a lot of energy – therefore it would be quite normal if you need to sleep more and when you are not as powerful at work as you usually are.
I assume when you made it through the article until this point you are or have been walking this road. Let me tell you this: Thank you! Thank you, that you are the friend who is not running off despite the horror. Thank you for walking. Keep on.