Your friend just received the worst news such as the loss of a loved one, diagnosed with a major illness, experienced a trauma or numerous other things. At that moment nothing makes sense anymore. We lose the mental, emotional and/or spiritual resources to deal with life at that moment. So how can we help our friend at that moment?
Let’s start with the practical things. I have never met anyone that their house was immaculate and their fridge was full of food on the day bad news hits. First priority is to take care of the physical. Take a moment to slow down and notice what your friend needs. There are a lot of practical things like: their house cleaned, food in the fridge, a package of toilet paper, their child needs to be watched or picked up from school. These things are very simple but they mean so much to people. If taking care of the practical is not something you are typically good at, it can be as simple as handing them a gift card to a restaurant or hiring a cleaning service for them. Imagine being in the hospital everyday with a sick child and trying to eat while worrying about everything else. Almost every hospital in Canada has a Tim’s. Buy them a Tim’s gift card so they can eat when they need to without worrying about money or finding food somewhere. Ease their burden by making sure physical things are taken care of so they can focus on healing.
Hurt people, hurt people. Your friend who is in pain might not be the friendliest person in the world during this time of their life. When our brains become overloaded things like controlling emotions, or facial recognition become difficult. You might bump into them somewhere and they act like they don’t know you. Don’t take offense! Gently remind them of your name and where you know them from and continue with the conversation. They haven’t forgotten you, they just have a lot filling up their mind space.
Listen. The biggest thing that people forget to do is just sit down and listen. It does not matter at that moment if you are the wisest person on the planet, when someone is in pain they don’t need your sage advice. There will be time for that later. They need a friend to come along side them and just be there. Pay attention to what they are saying, they can explain what is happening to them to someone who they feel cares. When they trip over their words while trying to explain, be patient it will come.
After listening comes encouragement. We remember things when they are in our face. So a friend has a loved one die, we are sympathetic at the funeral. Or if someone is going through an illness we notice when they are absent at a regular activity such as your children’s soccer games. This results in the person feels forgotten and lonely in the in-between times. Encouragement can be really simple. It can be a text that says, I’m thinking of you or an ecard wishing them a great day. You don’t have to take much time to let someone know you care. But that few minutes to send a simple text might brighten their whole day.
People in pain often tell me no one touches them. They feel like they are a disease that no one wants to get too close to for fear they’ll catch it. A pat of the shoulder, a casual rub on their arm, or a hug can help regulate moods, strengthen their immune system, build trust and help people thrive in difficult situations.
I realize these suggestions are general and every situation is unique. When someone is in pain everything changes for them and people react different. One thing remains the same and that is that people are the expert on themselves, they can tell you what they need if you take a moment to ask. Take a moment to reach out to a friend in pain and ask them how can I help you during this time?