How to offer support for a friend who is hurting.
Someone you know receives dreaded news.
The divorce papers.
The freak accident.
The pink slip.
No matter what form it takes, you may feel unequipped to enter into someone’s crisis. Saying and doing nothing seems better than saying the wrong thing.
In reality, your silence is one of the worst things you can give to someone facing hardship, but your presence is one of the most powerful gifts.
I’ve discovered this firsthand over the last two years of battling cancer. Here are some things those facing crisis can’t tell you but wish they could:
1. Engage with us. We need you to break the silence. One of the most meaningful calls my husband and I received was from a friend who called almost seven months after we announced the diagnosis. He confessed, “I’ve been silent, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” That one call fortified our friendship and reminded us how much we were loved.
2. Stay with us. People love to hear the juicy details behind the breakup or sit in the chemo cabana, but six months later they’re nowhere to be found. Set an alarm on your calendar to check back in every 21 days. Keep letting us know that you love us and you’re praying for us. When the dark voices whisper, “You’re all alone,” and “No one cares,” your ongoing presence will remind us otherwise.
3. Extend grace. Overwhelming circumstances shift the lenses through which we see life. Details magnify. Emotions. Sensitivities. Needs. Crisis creates new triggers that will cause us to overreact. Don’t plan on responses always being rational or proportional.
We need to share our stories in our own time. Listen without trying to fix the situation or us.
4. Hear us. Learn how to listen to our story. We may not want to utter a syllable about what’s happened on one day and ramble for hours the next. We need to share our stories in our own time. Listen without trying to fix the situation or us. Listen without dismissing our experience or feelings. Listen without feeling like you have to relate.
5. Avoid dismissive comments. It’s far too easy to make dismissive statements like, “I know someone who has the same the thing you had.” No two losses are ever the same. Instead, look for opportunities to gently encourage us. These can be helpful and meaningful—especially if you skip phrases like, “I don’t know how I would have handled this.”
6. Celebrate the good. In the wake of the loss of a loved one, it’s appropriate to reminiscence on the good and funny times. Remember their good qualities and stories of kindness. Set a recurring calendar alarm on the person’s birthday or the day they passed away to send a special reminder that you still remember.
7. Meet our real needs. It’s tempting to think we know what someone needs without ever asking. The result is often an abundance of one or two resources and a lack of real needs being met. Instead of filling a person’s life with trinkets or yet another blanket, always ask what the person needs.
8. Play with us. Sometimes it can feel like everything focuses on the crisis. We need to get out of the house and do something ridiculous and fun. We need you to ask and keep on asking us to get together. Your invite reminds us that we’re still loved and included by you.
This article is from the May/June issue of RELEVANT magazine.