Pain, heartache, and struggle are all part of the human experience. We have all struggled. We have all experienced the excruciating emotions that accompany loss. We have all been in the dark trenches life drops us in at one point or another. Why, then, do we get uncomfortable when someone else is hurting? We clam up, feel uneasy, and say things we regret a minute later.
One possibility is that feeling the emotions that accompany a loss are not so pleasant, and embracing these difficult feelings puts us way out of our comfort zone. We don’t like the way it feels to hurt and it is almost worse to witness others hurting so we do everything possible to fix it. We say things like, “Time will heal this”, “He wasn’t the right guy for you anyway”, “You can have more children” “At least he isn’t in pain any more”. All of these comments are meant to be helpful but have the potential to minimize the loss, put a timeline on grief, or even relay the message that I can’t bare your pain so hurry and fix it. This leaves the hurting friend feeling as though they are not valid in their pain and often times folks suppress it and eventually put on the happy face those around them desire.
We spend a good portion of time planning the “just right” thing to say and get ourselves worked up when it is time to say it, when the reality is that what the hurting person might need doesn’t involve words at all.
This friend in pain might simply need your PRESENCE. Someone who is willing to put on their tall work boots, grab their flashlight and trudge through the mud and darkness with them. Many times when a tragedy occurs, communities of people swoop in to help and comfort those in pain. However, these well-meaning folks may tap their toe in the mud but quickly jump out and provide encouragement from a place of distance where it is dry, clean, and not so dark or messy. While the encouragement is nice, the heartbroken person is still down in the dark pit alone. What they need most is someone, anyone, who is willing to jump in and get dirty with them. Someone who is willing to walk next to them, in the dark, where the light at the end seems just out of reach. With this commitment comes the possibility that your own emotions might be triggered. However, if you are willing to jump in, it just might be the best possible gift they could receive.
Benjamin Allen sums it up perfectly in his quote:
“There have been so many beautiful people who have stopped to be with me in my brokenness. The special ones didn’t shy away from my sorrow or shun my sadness. They sat as close as they could in silent support. Without them being there, I wouldn’t be here.”
The next time you experience a friend in pain and feel unsure as to how to help, consider one of these alternatives:
- Offer your presence. There are no words that can reverse what has happened or lessen the pain. Sit next to your friend and say nothing at all. Just being present in the room says, “ I care about you and I am here for you.”
- Simple acts of kindness. With struggle comes exhaustion. Emotions are absolutely fatiguing. Prepare meals, run errands, send a card, or bring by flowers. Offer to pick up groceries or just drop off groceries at the door.
- Let them vent and simply listen. You don’t need to say much at all. Let them express their anger, sadness, or frustration. Listen. Don’t feel the need to have all the answers or provide the most insightful feedback. More than likely, they do not desire feedback or advice. Just provide an ear to vent to.
- Walk with them through the entirety of the struggle. When a community of people get word that one of their members is hurting, everyone initially wants to help. At first, the hurting might even feel overwhelmed with care, phone calls, meals, and kind words. Unfortunately over time, these caring individuals go back to their busy lives and the outpour of care slows down. Continue to walk with your friend through the length of the healing process. Be patient and know that this is a very very lengthy process.
Notice that not one of these suggestions requires saying the “just right thing”. Most of them actually do not call for any words at all. Next time, your friend is hurting, put on your boots, grab your flashlight, jump in the mud with them, and just place your shoulder right next to theirs.