How we comfort the people that we care about in their time of need is not always simple. Questions pop up that are hard to answer. How do we talk about their struggle? Will we come across wrong? Will they hate us for it? It’s also hard to maintain a balance of being there and smothering them. We often struggle to navigate the difficult waters of loss.
As someone who’s been through loss and has been there for those who have experienced loss, here’s some steps I have learned along the way:
Step 1: Be a decent human being. Don’t stare. I repeat don’t stare. No one likes someone who just stares at them. What’s even worse, is when the stares turn into whisperers. I've noticed that people think nobody can see (or hear) them, but everyone definitely can. People are not that blinded by loss. If you don’t know what to say, then don’t say anything at all. However, you can acknowledge someone just by a simple wave. Say good morning or hello. Just talk to the individual impacted by loss. Don’t make them feel different because they already feel isolated enough.
Step 2: Realize everyone is different. We have the cryers and the ones who need hugs. We also have the people who like to talk about it and the people who get uncomfortable when you do. So when someone is going through loss, take the time to pay attention to their reactions. Their body language is a huge indicator of what they need from you. Sometimes, people need a comfortable silence, while others will need your ear and shoulder.
Step 3: It’s not about you. For a split second, pretend that you are a nice and supportive mirror. The person who is hurting sees you are all about them and not all about yourself. Not everyone wants to hear, “I had something just like that happen to me.” Launching into your entire life story for no reason whatsoever does not put the focus on the person who is hurting. DON'T DO IT. It will immediately shut down any form of relief, I promise.
Step 4: The power of listening. One of the hardest things about going through loss is going through it alone. Most of the time, when someone loses someone, they’re surrounded by people who are going through it too. They are constantly consumed by the loss. Be the person who hasn't gone through it. Be the person that is just there to listen. Talk less, listen more! (This also ties back into Step 3.)
Step 5: Remind them you care. Let the individual know that if they need anything you are there, and MEAN IT. Whether it’s a phone number, address, or an offer to hangout; make it something substantial so that they know you are serious. Just knowing that you're serious enough to make time for them will mean the world to them.
When we support someone at their lowest point, they’re going to be there for us when we need it. Then, the cycle will hopefully continue so that this world can be a more empathetic and kind place to live in.