Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s November 2017 issue.
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I’m guilty. I’m guilty of being the idiot who spouted out all kinds of cliché phrases to ‘comfort’ someone who was mourning. I am guilty of saying things like “prayers for you and your family” and then forgetting to pray, telling someone I love them, but not showing them with my actions when they needed me most. I’ll let myself off the hook a little. To be honest, I couldn’t empathize with severe pain or loss 15 years ago. I’d never had cancer, I’d never been abused, I didn’t have a husband who was a jerk, and my parents aren’t alcoholics or cocaine addicts. I have never lost a child, gone through a divorce, or even lost a job up to that point. I didn’t know how to empathize or relate, and therefore, I didn’t know what my friends needed in their moments of sorrow, loss, pain, or discouragement. I didn’t have a clue as to how deeply grief could run, how long it could last, and how far it would reach into so many areas of life. I didn’t get it until I experienced it myself.
I want to say this with grace and help save you from being the idiot that I was. I do not judge you for what you do not know. I do not judge you for not knowing how to care about others during their hard and dark seasons. I write this for when our friends go through something hard, or when YOU go through something hard.
First, let’s just clear the air with a few things NOT to do.
- Don’t tell them you’ll pray for them, act as if you care, and then never check in, touch base, or send a note again. Don’t say “I’m thinking of you” if you’re not thinking of them. It’s obvious. How do I know? Because I’ve had friends say these things and then a month down the road, I’d see them and what we had gone through was the farthest thing on their mind. It was like they had “concern amnesia.” That’s a yucky feeling, feeling forgotten during your season of sadness especially when you already feel alone. So just don’t say it if you don’t mean it and if you don’t plan on following through.
- Don’t say “Let me know if you need anything.” When someone is in crisis or emergency mode, when their pain is so severe it’s all they can do to get themselves to breathe; they will not remember, know, or care to call you with a request of needs. There were times I had forgotten to eat, desperately needed a shower, and needed to be reminded to go outside and get fresh air. I couldn’t make you a list of how to help me. Plus, who wants to be the person calling and asking for simple things like dinner, or help cleaning?
- Please don’t say “There’s a reason for all of this,” “I guess Heaven needed another angel,” “This pain will make you a better person,” or “This is temporary.” While those lines may hold some truth, it is the LAST thing someone in the middle of pain wants to hear. It’s like you are telling them they are weak, immature for being sad, they need to get over it, or to have a better attitude.
- Don’t call them or visit them and then talk about your first-world problems. How the customer service lady on the phone won’t remove the $25 overage charges for the “live streaming” videos you watched while laying on the beach. Or, that you have the sniffles, or you feel fat. I wouldn’t even recommend trying to empathize by bringing up your story of pain that was as hard or harder than their story. It brings NO comfort to commiserate. This isn’t a pain competition, and it makes the conversation feel all about you.
When we were in crisis, a few people in my life knew EXACTLY what we needed. I’ve taken notes on what they’ve done because it was like oxygen to my soul, sunshine through the rain, a warm blanket covering the chill of sadness, fear, or discouragement.
Here are a few amazing things you CAN do.
- If you’re a close friend or family member, get in their house while they are gone and do their laundry. Laundry is a fight even in the best of circumstances, but it’s much more of a battle when all of your time is focused on the emergency at hand or dealing with loss or pain.
- Create a Sunshine Box. We’ve had two friends do this over the years, and every time it brings a smile to my face and joy to my family’s heart. The most recent time was right before we traveled to Denver for my 7-year-old’s brain surgery. One of my best friends sent us a “box of sunshine” filled with yellow things that would be perfect for the road. Burt’s Bees lip balm, Kleenex packages and wet wipes, yellow play-dough, a water bottle, snacks and gum in yellow packages, notepads, a yellow toy car, a minion, a yellow shirt that had my son’s name on it, a box of crayons.
- If they’re on your mind, call or text without expecting any response and keep doing it. They might not respond or pick up, but knowing that someone is thinking of them when it feels like the world is carrying on without them and time is just standing still helps. It truly helps.
- Take the everyday tasks off of their plate. Bring dinner, or give them a gift card to a restaurant that delivers. Buy groceries and drop them off. Mow their lawn. Take and pick up their kids from school. All of these things seem difficult or impossible when hurting.
- Surprise them with joy. Leave hearts all over their car…give them a “heart attack.” Put a new potted mum, geranium, or wreath on their doorstep to ring in the new season. Bake (or buy) their favorite cookies for them. Send them a singing card. We had a friend hire two superheroes to visit my son at the hospital. It not only made his day, but his brother’s and several other kiddos who were on the same floor. Surprises don’t have to cost money or be elaborate, but they will require time, and the hurting heart knows when time is being sacrificed for them. It means the world.
- Tell them you’ve missed them. Not to make them feel guilty, but to make them feel loved, noticed, and remembered. Pain, sickness, loss, and grieving can make one “absent” from normal life for a while and feel alone a lot of the time.
- Call while you’re at the grocery store and say “I was going to get you guys a few basics. Is there something you need me to grab while I’m here?” Saying you are already doing something eliminates their guilt of saying “yes,” and it also helps you know their exact needs.
- Pay their utilities. Bills pile up and get missed in hard times. Most utility companies allow you pay someone else’s bill if you know their name and address.
- Help them remember it’s ok if it takes time. It’s ok if they’re tired. It’s ok if they’re emotional. They desperately want to be normal and not feel like they are a burden. Sometimes, they need help remembering it’s ok.
- Be quiet. Don’t be weird. Don’t try to say the right things. Don’t give advice. Sometimes, even questions are too much. Just be in the same room with them and be quiet. Your presence is all that’s needed.
about the author…Jamie, wife of her high school sweetheart and mom of four boys, she has been in the fitness industry for 18 years. “Fuel the body, mobilize the soul” is her mission. Connect with Jamie on Facebook www.facebook.com/jamiebeeson1 or online at bit.ly/JamieBeeson