These simple gestures go a long way in helping someone who's in pain or grieving.
Two years ago, I experienced a late miscarriage. The loss was devastating and I didn’t know which way was up for a long time. The world and everything in it felt so different. My life had jerked to a halt, but the rest of the world continued on as usual. When someone asked me if there was anything they could do to help, I just shook my head. There was nothing that would bring my daughter back. There was nothing that would fix this or make me feel better. I couldn’t ask for help because I didn’t even know where to start.
Pain is hard to be around. It makes people uncomfortable. Many want to help but don’t know what to say and are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. Our discomfort is often pushed under the rug or brushed off because we don’t know how to help. We offer a vague, “Let me know if you need anything,” wishing that we could do more but at a loss for what to do.
Here are five things that I did find truly helpful during one of the most difficult times of my life.
1Pick up the phone
When a friend is suffering, give them a call and listen. If they have nothing to say, let them know that you love them. State the obvious. What they are going through is hard. Let them know that it’s okay not to be okay and you are there with them on both good days and bad. Assure them that you will give them another call soon to check in, and then actually do it.
Don’t offer advice on how to pull through it or platitudes. There is no timeline for pain. Don’t say that you know what they’re going through. Even if you’ve been through something similar, both of your experiences are as unique as you both are. Shy away from offering any “one size fits all” approaches to coping.
2Validate their emotions
Emotions can feel ugly and uncomfortable. One of the best things that you can do to support a friend is accept how they feel without judgment. Let them know that whatever they are feeling is okay. Don’t question why they feel what they do. If it is a good day, rejoice with them. If it is a bad day, be their sounding board or a shoulder to cry on.
3Don’t ask them, tell them
Can you bring your friend a dinner? Can you babysit the kids, help out with housework, or run errands? If you are short on time, put a basket together filled with baked goods, cards, and wine. No matter how small the contribution is, it will mean so much to the person receiving it. Let them know what you can do and when you are able to do it. If they truly don’t need the help, they will tell you.
4Help with a distraction
They may not want to talk about it. They may not want to cry or scream or vent. Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is offer a change of scenery or a diversion. Drop off a great book or movie. Give them a gift card to their favorite store and offer to take them out shopping. Go out for dinner, see a movie, or head to a museum. Take them to see a play or opera. Find out what they love to do and facilitate their doing it.
5Keep reaching out
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do for a friend in need is to stay in touch. It’s so easy to do your part then fade away, occupied with your own hectic schedule. When you make plans, extend the invitation to them. Every so often, drop off another dinner. Check in with a text, email, or phone call. Drop off a care package or swing by for coffee and a chat. Do something small to let them know that you are thinking of them.
If you see them in public, greet them warmly. If you have no words in that moment, just give them a hug. Being human means that, at some point, we will all know some form of pain. The best thing we can do for each other is offer connection, love, and validation. You don’t need to do much, a little bit goes a long way.