SOURCE: Henry Cloud/John Townsend
Amy called Tina late one night needing a friend.
“He’s gone,” Amy said between sobs. “Dad passed an hour ago.”
Tina was heartbroken for her friend. Though offering condolences and prayers seemed appropriate, Tina wanted to do more for Amy. She couldn’t take away the pain Amy was experiencing, and she was busy with work and family obligations, yet she felt as though she needed to do more. This was one of her best friends.
Simply said, the way to comfort someone who is enduring a loss, going through a hard time or is recovering from addiction is to give them the support and structure they need to go through the process that is unavoidable.
Each of these instances requires a letting-go experience, a letting-go of defenses, control, the things that have been lost, emotions, niceties and the like. But to let go, someone has to be held up. The facilitator is the person who is the life support and the one who holds up the other person while they let go of their emotions and habits, and enter a very natural process. So, the facilitator’s job is to provide the comfort, safety and structure that helps allow that to happen.
Consider the following:
- Use active listening and empathy. Give empathic statements that show that you hear and understand what the person is experiencing.
- Be emotionally present with the person. Look them in the eye. Reach out and touch their arm. Show that you truly are with them.
- Ask questions that require something other than yes or no answers, or factual responses. Instead, ask questions that allow them to talk: “What has this been like for you?” “I cannot imagine what you have experienced. Tell me how you have coped.” Open ended, process questions.
- Watch for the ones who are too overwhelmed to process. Grief is good to express, unless the person is too overwhelmed to truly grieve. In that case, they need containment rather than to open up. If it is too much for them to express their grief, help them to feel safe and gain control. Tell them you will be there with them, and don’t try to get them more into what they are feeling at that time.
- Don’t offer pat answers or platitudes.
- Offer practical help that restores the structure of life. Do they need a ride somewhere? Do they need a meal? Do they need errands taken care of? Do they need help with insurance forms? These things are of great comfort and restore the structure of life.
Here’s something to always keep in mind: The biggest comfort you can give is the fact that you are there and you care. Don’t worry about having all the answers or solutions. Your presence and care is the biggest support you can offer. The biggest help is to give them a time and a place to talk. Do not try to sidestep the process that they feel, with all its different emotions, or try to make it tidy. The healing process has to make its own path.